Laudable Linkage

Here are some great reads from around the Web:

I Learned to Read the Bible Through Tears, HT to True Woman. “But on days when I felt desperate, I didn’t care about duty. I was dedicating time to be with God because I needed it — not because I had to. I approached my Bible reading with a different mindset, with expectation and anticipation, not a sense of obligation.”

How Reading the Bible Changed My Life, HT to Challies.”So when I look back at that time in my life, I don’t see a 14-year-old who suddenly became ‘spiritual’; I see a gracious God who chose to intervene in an apathetic teen’s life. I don’t see my own faithful heart; I see the faithful heart of God that kept on pursuing me, despite my faithlessness, and that still pursues me to this day.”

Am I Invisible? One Mom’s pain-relieving response to being excluded, HT to Linda.

Age-ism: The New (or Old) Prejudice, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “About forty percent thought that older people should be banned from public activities, like shopping. Then the vitriol gets worse. Some of sites declared that older folks should ‘hurry up and die already.’ One quote went, ‘Anyone over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.’ This is nothing but brutal hate-speech.”

Children Who Get What They Want Are Not Creative, HT to The Story Warren. Interesting piece on how creativity thrives within structure and discipline rather than in total freedom. “When we [always] give a three-year-old whatever he wants, we are just postponing that child’s battle with his desires until a time in which he will find the fight far more difficult.” I don’t know that the best reason to serve a child food that he doesn’t like is so that he can engage his creativity by figuring out various ways to get rid of it, but I am thinking that section might be written tongue-in-cheek.

My Mother Practiced the Piano. “Certainly motherhood may limit your participation in certain endeavors, and there are some years that moms mostly just have to survive. However, if you are reading a site like Story Warren, my guess is that you are already highly committed as a parent, and that commitment frees me up to remind you that your passion and curiosity matter. There’s nothing selfish about working toward your artistic interests as God allows the time. In fact, your children can benefit from watching you model discipline and discovery, so don’t give up on your art, invite your kids into it. Let them watch you conquer little pieces of the world so that they will know how to tame their own chaos one measure at a time.”

Finally, seen on Pinterest from the Prince of Preachers site, this principle is not easy, but it is true.

Book Review: Heaven Without Her

HeavenI first became aware of Heaven Without Her: A Desperate Daughter’s Search for the Heart of Her Mother’s Faith by Kitty Foth-Regner when Sherri reviewed it here. I commented that I was putting the book on my TBR list, and the author graciously contacted me and offered to send me both this book and another of hers, The Song of Sadie Sparrow.

This book is part memoir, part apologetics. Kitty grew up with a loving Christian mother, but she rejected the gospel. She felt God wasn’t real and Christianity would just get between her and her idea of fun. She became a feminist and an agnostic, developed a good writing business, had lots of like-minded friends and a significant other. Life seemed good.

Then her aging mother became sick and was not expected to live. Kitty couldn’t bear the thought that she might not see her mother ever again. To Kitty’s credit, she didn’t just mouth a false profession. She couldn’t agree to Christianity if she didn’t believe it was true. But she was willing to investigate it. So she dug, read, and studied not only Christianity but also other religions from every conceivable angle, such as the existence of God, creation vs. evolution, the veracity of the Bible, and more.

The book tells how she got “so lost” in the first place and how, point by point, God dealt with all her objections and brought her to Himself.

A few quotes:

The most dangerous lies are those that contain a healthy dose of truth.

It didn’t take me long to make the most important aspect of radical feminism my own–all the me-centered principle that made my ambitions, my feelings, my intellect, and my freedom my number one priorities.

It was time to quit wondering and take some action.

Later, I would read in Philippians 4 about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” It was like that: peace that I hadn’t felt since I was a little kid, before I knew the heartbreaks and fears and humiliations that can happen in this world. The sort of peace you feel when you know someone much bigger than you is in total control, loves you to pieces, and will take care of you always.

My friendship with several hyper-feminists were among the casualties of my conversion. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut. But I figured that a friend doesn’t let a friend live without hope; a friend shares the gospel.

Kitty ends the book with a list of recommending resources for anyone wanting to research the same questions and concerns that she did.

I’ve heard people criticize creation and apologetic ministries because they are not the gospel, and it’s only the gospel which “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, ESV). That’s true, but the seed of the gospel is the Word of God, according to the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), and apologetics ministries pull out some weeds and rocks in the soil of people’s hearts and minds so the seed can better take root.

I’m thankful for Kitty’s sharing her testimony and the truths she learned in her book, and I can highly recommend it.

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

Laudable Linkage


My latest round-up of newly discovered noteworthy posts:

Doing Spiritual Warfare Without All the Weirdness, HT to Challies.

Dear Mormon – I Can’t Call You a Brother in Christ, HT to Challies.

A Beautiful Table and a Bitter Heart, HT to Challies. Good not just for Thanksgiving!

What Is Thanksgiving Anyway?

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Obsession With Polemics, HT to Challies. It’s necessary but shouldn’t be the main thing. Some helpful considerations.

Which Are Better: Old Books or New?

The Last of the Iron Lungs, HT to Challies. A handful of people with polio still rely on them, but they’re not sold or maintained by the the manufacturers any more. Fascinating article. And, though this is not the main point of it, I was inspired by those who are trying to make the best of their circumstances, like the man who took his iron lung to college, practiced law for the few hours a day he could go without the iron lung, until he started needing it almost 100%. Now he’s writing his memoirs while encased in it.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but in case you missed it, I announced the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge for February 2018 and included a long list of related books to consider for those who might want to read beyond just the Little House series.

Finally, I didn’t listen to all this, but overheard a good bit while hubby was listening. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders began the last press briefing before Thanksgiving asking the reporters to share something they were thankful for before asking their questions. What we found amazing was the way they whole atmosphere changed by doing that, from confrontational and adversarial to convivial!

Happy Saturday! It’s Christmas decoration day for us!

Laudable Linkage

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve shared noteworthy things discovered around the Web, so here goes:

Two Methods of Bible Study. Do you ever struggle with whether to read larger portions of the Bible or to camp out deeply in smaller passages? Both are needed, and this is the best explanation of the two methods I’ve seen.

The Value of Children. Love this. Great insight.

Afraid of the Unknown. Yes, I tend to be, and this was very helpful.

When My Work Is Marginalized, Unappreciated, or Belittled.

Today Is Not a DIY Project.

Laser Rays…and Moonbeams. Lovely piece on the power of words to tear down and build up, beautifully written.

His Wife, Not His Mother and Part 2: Practical Tips: Learning How To Be His Wife, Not His Mother.

Sexual Desire and the Single Girl (10 Tips For Purity)

How to Write Without Sounding Preachy.

Love this! Some nice film editing about what kids might be imagining in their play, HT to The Story Warren:

Happy Saturday!

Are We Responsible for God’s Reputation?

One of the things writing does for me is to help me think things through in ways that I can’t always do mentally. With writing I can take each strand of swirling thoughts, lay it out in black and white, follow it through to completion, go on to another, put them all together in some order, and then stand back and take a look at them. When I try to do that without writing them down, they just continue to swirl, and I can only think about one part for a brief time.

Something that’s been on the back of my mind for months is an offhand statement I saw on someone’s blog. When I go to a new blog, if what I see there interests me, I often will check out the “About Me” section to find out a little more about the person, to get more of an idea of who it is I am reading about. A part of what this particular blogger wanted people to know about her was that she was taught in her church and youth group to keep certain standards in order to maintain a good testimony before others, so people would think well of her God by what they saw her do;  but as she got older she felt that many of those standards went beyond the parameter of what she was called to do, and furthermore, she felt that she was not responsible for God’s reputation, that He was big enough to take care of that on His own. She wasn’t advocating a total overthrow of any standards at all, but she was refusing to place them on that level on importance.

Now, I agree with this young woman that some people go beyond what the Bible actually teaches or implies in their standards, and that some place their standards almost on par with the ten commandments and look quite condescendingly at anyone who practices something different than they do, and that both of those approaches are wrong. What I mean by standards are the practical ways people work out their beliefs and convictions that may vary from person to person (Romans 14) as opposed to the bedrock doctrinal truth that there can be no variations on.

But what really stood out to me and has had me pondering these many months is the thought that we are not responsible for God’s reputation. Is that true?

First my mind went back to verses in the New Testament about doing or not doing things so that God’s Word is not blasphemed. For instance in Titus 2:3-5, older godly women are instructed to teach younger women in a variety of areas – soberness (self-control in the ESV), loving husband and children, being “discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands,” so that “the word of God be not blasphemed” (reviled in the ESV). The word of God can be blasphemed when I am indiscreet, lacking in self-control, or unloving to my family? Apparently so.

In I Timothy 6:1, servants were to “count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.”

I Peter 2:11-12 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Philippians 4: 5 says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”

Philippians 1:27 says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

In II Corinthians 6:3-4a. Paul says, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.”

In the Old Testament, God’s reputation was a motive for prayer. When God was going to destroy the Israelites for their lack of faith in going into the promised land, Moses prayed:

“Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’” (Numbers 14:13-16).

In Psalm 106:21, 27, David prays, “But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!…Let them know that this is your hand; you, O Lord, have done it!

The sake of God’s name is a factor in many prayers and actions in the Bible, so I think, yes, we should be concerned about how we are representing God in what we say and do. Stated a little differently, I Corinthians 6:19-20 conclude that we should not do certain things because “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

That doesn’t mean different people can’t have different standards. I think people’s carping about other people’s different standards does far more harm to the reputation of God’s people than the different standards do. The Bible does teach grace in dealing with others who may not see everything quite the same way we do. But our motivating factor should be God’s honor and glory: even those with different practices in Romans 14 each did what they did “as unto the Lord.”

On the other hand, sometimes God does call someone to do something that seems harmful to their reputation, and to His. Mary’s reputation suffered as well as Jesus’s by the virgin birth, but it suffered in the eyes of people who didn’t believe it, and someday it will be vindicated. There are actions of God, or sometimes what seems to be a lack of action, that cause some to call Him unfair. But off the top of my head, areas in which people criticize God come down to problems on our end of things, not His. We don’t see the big picture or understand all His purposes and lack faith in His character, His wisdom, His love, etc.  He is willing to risk being misunderstood to do what is right and necessary in any given situation and He wants us to know Him and trust Him even when everything doesn’t make sense to us.

When Jesus lived on the earth, He “made Himself of no reputation” and “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He did defend and explain His Father and even His own actions sometimes, but He wasn’t grasping after His rights or His “place” as the Son of God.

It is a misguided attempt to defend God’s reputation that sometimes earns Christians and the God they think they are representing a bad reputation. In almost any online forum, when a non-Christian makes a disparaging remark about God or the Bible or Christianity, you can count on some Christian leaping to God’s defense. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it can be if it is done harshly or condescendingly. Just this morning I came across a blog post about why Christians don’t seek to avenge insults against God: He Himself showed people grace in their ignorance and unbelief when He died for them on the cross, and in His love and longsuffering He waits and draws them to Himself. He wants us to show that same grace, love, kindness, and longsuffering. Of course we can and should soak ourselves in His Word and attempt to explain or put things into perspective for others and ask God to make it plain to them. Jude 3 speaks of “earnestly contending for the faith,” and I Peter 3: 14b-16 says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” That’s quite a different stance than “pouncing” on someone for saying something out of line with the Bible.

The more I think about this issue, the more I realize it is probably too big a topic for one simple blog post. But here are some conclusions I think I can draw so far:

1. Yes, God can take care of His own reputation. He is willing to be misunderstood in the short term, but some day everything will be set to rights and people will see and know Him for who He really is.

2. We can and should contend for the faith and have a reason for the hope that lies within us, but we should be gracious and respectful about it.

3. We do represent God both to other Christians and to unbelievers and we do need to be aware that our actions and attitudes reflect on Him favorably or unfavorably.

4. That will filter down into our everyday lives and standards. But I don’t think the emphasis should be on keeping standards in order to maintain a good testimony. That puts all the focus on the outward form rather than the inward reality. As Erin Davis said in What to Say to That Immodestly Dressed Girl at Church:

This requires an important shift. We need to stop asking, “How can we get our girls to dress modestly?” and start asking, “How can we get our girls to be passionate students of God’s Word?” Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word works like a sword, surgically removing those parts of our hearts that don’t line up with the holiness of God. Which would you prefer? A girl who covers up out of obligation, or a girl who chooses to change because of God’s work in her through His Word?

Now, when it comes to immodesty, especially with three sons, my first instinct would be to say, “Let’s cover up first, even if it is out of obligation, and then we’ll study the reason for it.” 🙂 There may be times for that kind of an approach: as a parent, often you have to require certain actions and standards for your children even if they don’t understand the reasons behind them. But the motivation, the overarching focus should be love for God and living for Him and what pleases Him and brings Him glory. It should be that inner love that works itself out into our everyday actions. In one biography I read years ago, a young person had grown up with certain standards against “worldliness” which she then joyfully jumped into when she turned away from God for a time. But once she came to truly know Him, the more she grew in her knowledge of Him and love for Him, the more those things just fell away on their own.

From a writerly point of view, I should probably let this sit a few more days and tighten, organize, and “polish” it better. But I am going to let it stand as a “thinking through my fingers” post.

What are your thoughts about our responsibility for God’s reputation?

31 Days of Inspirational Biography: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity

SeekingIn Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity Nabeel Qureshi first gives a window into a loving and devout Muslim home, with all its practices, disciplines, and teachings, as well as a peek into the perspective of growing up Muslim in a non-Muslim culture.  Wanting to be a faithful representative of Islam, having been taught critical thinking in school and having a mind geared for it, he often turned the arguments of some of his Christian classmates on their heads, bringing up aspects they had not thought about before and were not ready to defend.

In college God brought to him “an intelligent, uncompromising, Non-Muslim friend who would be willing to challenge” him, someone who was “bold and stubborn enough” to deal with him but also someone he could trust “enough to dialogue…about the things that mattered to [him] the most.” Nabeel and his friend, David, were both on the forensics team and knew how to get to the heart of an argument and draw out and refute key points. For the most part they did this with each other’s worldviews good-naturedly, but when a given topic became too heated, they’d table it for a while. Muslims particularly have trouble with the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the connection between Christ’s death on the cross and how it atoned for others’ sins. For three years Nabeel studied the Bible and its claims and others’ claims about it, fully confident that he’d be able to disprove those claims, and then to study the history of Mohamed and the claims of the Quran, fully confident that Islam would be justified. Though he was obviously biased toward the Quran, he really wanted to know the truth. He discovered the Bible’s claims were justified and Islam’s to be on shaky ground.

For some time he resisted acting on this knowledge. Being a Muslim was a matter of identity as well as religion: his whole life, everything he had always believed, his relationship with his family and community, everything would be turned upside down if he became a Christian. Yet he could not continue on, knowing what he now knew. In one of the most beautiful and touching passages in the book, he was seeking time to mourn before making the decision he knew he had to, and he opened the Bible for guidance this time, not simply to look for information to refute. He came to Matthew 5:4, 6:

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Nabeel writes further:

There are costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife. It is no understatement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross.

But then again, it is the cross. There is a reason Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

Would it be worth it to pick up my cross and be crucified next to Jesus? If He is not God, then, no. Lose everything I love to worship a false God? A million times over, no!

But if He is God, then yes. Being forever bonded to my Lord by suffering alongside Him? A million times over, yes!

All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing.

I feel I must comment on one aspect of the story that I questioned at first and I am sure other readers might as well: When Nabeel mentioned early on being “called to Jesus through visions and dreams,” I admit I inwardly winced and wondered what kind of story I’d be reading. For reasons too long to go into here, I am of those who believe that once God gave us His completed Word in writing, then dreams, visions, tongues, and the like fell away as unneeded.  The few modern instances I have ever heard or read of that seemed most in line with Bible truth were in cultures which didn’t have the Bible, often didn’t have a written language at all. Another problem with relying on dreams Nabeel discovered himself: one questions what it really means (his Muslim mother and Christian friend had completely opposite interpretations for what Nabeel’s dreams meant), wonders how much was due to wishful thinking, asks “Could I really hinge my life and eternal destiny on a dream?” etc. If that’s all he had to go on to become a believer, I would question what he was really trusting, but these dreams came after years of intense searching and study. In an appendix by Josh McDowell on this topic, he states, “Dreams and visions do not convert people; the gospel does,” but he explains, “In many Muslim cultures, dreams and visions play a strong role in people’s lives. Muslims rarely have access to the scriptures or interactions with Christian missionaries.” As in Nabeel’s case, “the dreams lead them to the scriptures and to believers who can share Jesus with them. It is the gospel through the Holy Spirit that converts people.”

One of many passages that stood out to me was in the chapter “Muslims in the West,” which described how Muslims view the West and Christians and, because they think both have corrupting influences and Westerners they are against Islam, they tend to keep to themselves. “On the rare occasion that someone does invite a Muslim to his or her home, differences in culture and hospitality may make the Muslim feel uncomfortable, and the host must be willing to ask, learn, and adapt to overcome this. There are simply too many  barriers for Muslim immigrants to understand Christians and the West by sheer circumstance. Only the exceptional blend of love, humility, hospitality, and persistence can overcome these barriers, and not enough people make the effort.”

I didn’t agree with everything Nabeel’s Christian friend said in the section about the Bible, in regard to believing some sections in the Bible were added later and not part of the original canon, but I do acknowledge that some do believe that.

There are multiple good aspects of this book: the window into another culture and mindset and the understanding of the difficulties a Muslim would have in coming to Christianity; the example of David and other friends who shared truth kindly and politely rather than belligerently or condescendingly, who genuinely cared about Nabeel as a friend rather than a “project”; the  wealth of information Nabeel found and shared from his studies which give a valuable apologetic (supplemented by several appendices>); and the touching yet agonizing conversion of a soul truly hungering and thirsting after the one true God.

(Reprinted from the archives. I hope regular readers will forgive my doing so with so recent a post. I was going to just summarize but then didn’t feel I could leave anything here out.)

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

Repost: God Does So Much More Than Just “Show Up”

(With different circumstances in my life right now, I am finding it a little difficult to have my brain working on all cylinders and be awake and alert when I have time to spend at the computer. I have a few posts percolating on the back burner that I hope to get a chance to work through soon. But I thought in the meantime maybe once a week or so I’d repost something from my archives here. I thought about making it a series and calling it “The Summer of Reruns.” 🙂 Seriously, though, sometimes going back over something God has taught or encouraged me with in the past makes for fresh blessings. I hope some of these will bless you as well, whether you saw them the first time or not.)

From October, 2009:

I have seen a particular phraseology going around recently that really bothers me:

“God really showed up.” “Pray that God shows up in a big way.” “I hope God shows up for this event.”

If you have said or written this, please don’t take offense or think I am fussing at you. I can’t remember for sure where all I have seen it. I’m speaking in generalities because I am starting to see this more and more and I want people to realize what it sounds like.

It bothers me for a few reasons.

1. God does not “show up.” He is omnipresent. (See Psalm 139:5-12, Jeremiah 23:23-24.)

2. Making our plans and then hoping God “shows up” is going about things backwardly. We should be seeking His guidance beforehand and all along the way.

3. The phrase “show up” seems to indicate the person wasn’t really expected, or at least his attendance was iffy. “I invited Tom, but I am not sure he’ll show up.”

4. The phrase also seems to indicate the person showing up took the invitation casually and just decided to “show up” — maybe on a whim, maybe because he couldn’t find any better options.

5. When I posted this the first time, someone commented that sometimes we say God “showed up” in a meeting when things got exciting. Sometimes we have more of a sense of His working or we’re touched in a special way, but that’s not to say He is not always meeting with us. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). We know He is present by faith, not when we “feel” it or when the bells and whistles go off.

I think I know what people mean when they want God to “show up”:

“I hope God really blesses this event/situation in such a way that people see it was something only He could do.”

“I want God’s presence to be manifested in a way that touches people’s hearts and draws them to Him.”

“I pray God’s power will be evident.”

Why not say it that way? It’s more accurate, more reverential, and more glorifying to God.

Here are some Scriptural examples of those desires:

“Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy:That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it.” Psalm 109:26-27.

“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” Psalm 63:1-2.

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” John 2:11.

“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” John 9:3.

“And [Moses] said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” Exodus 33:18.

“That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.” Joshua 4:24.

“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.” I Kings 18:36-37.

Book Review: The Great Divorce

the-great-divorceI first picked up The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis some years ago when I found it on sale in a bookstore. I wasn’t sure what kind of divorce the title was talking about, and the description on the front about a bus ride from hell to heaven seemed really weird, but it was Lewis and it was on sale, so I got it. But it sat around for all these years unopened. The TBR challenge of reading things that have been unread on our shelves spurred me to work this book in this year.

Lewis explains in the preface that the title and concept came in response to William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Lewis explains that there can be no such marriage.

“We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks in two, and each of those into two again, and at each road you must make a decision. Even on a biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but also from other good.”

“Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it.”

To illustrate some of those fork-in-the-road choices as well as the opposite directions of heaven and hell, Lewis developed this fantasy of a group of people on a bus ride from hell to visit heaven. When they arrive, they are surprised to find that they are transparent and that contact with solid objects is painful (“It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows.”) They are called ghosts, whereas the inhabitants who come to meet them are called Solid People or Spirits. Most of the people decide not to stay for various reasons, despite the Spirits encouraging them to put away whatever is holding them back and enter into joy.

The cleric who does not believe in absolutes refuses to believe in them still: “For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? ‘Prove all things’…to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” The Spirit speaking with him, a friend he knew in life, responds, “If that were true…how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for.” The artist prefers his painting to reality. “Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.” The overbearing wife wants to continue “managing” her husband. The mother who has developed motherly love into idolatry would rather take her son from heaven back to hell with her than lessen her focus from him to love God. “Mother love…is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature,” she says, and is told, “No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.” The man who lives for manipulating people with his self-pity is told, “Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed?”

But a few are willing to have their besetting sins taken and killed, and they grow more “solid.”

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. ”

“Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouth for food, or their eyes to see.”

Lewis, or the narrator, finds George MacDonald, someone he has greatly looked up to and learned from, who then becomes a guide and teacher for him, similar to Dante and Virgil in The Divine Comedy.

Lewis assures in the preface that he is not writing to propose anything about what heaven might be like: he is simply using this scenario as a vehicle to discuss truths.

There are a few similar themes as are found in The Last Battle, the last book in the Narnia series written about 10-11 years later: the idea of moving “further up and further in” and the effusive joy of heaven.

I don’t know if Lewis believed in a purgatory or if he was just using the idea of the dead getting “second chances” to illustrate that many of them would not take it. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” so I would have a problem with this book promoting the idea of purgatory, but I think the whole second chance scenario is just part of the plot device.

One character in the book says, “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”  Again, I don’t know if the idea of hell being just a state of mind was part of Lewis’s own philosophy or if it was just the nature of it in this as a fantasy, but the Bible does speak of hell with literal terminology.

Overall this was quite a fascinating and thought-provoking read.

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

31 Days of Missionary Stories: John Paton, Missionary to Cannibals

John Paton is the source of one of my all-time favorite missionary quotes. After a struggle, “dreadfully afraid of mistaking my own emotions for the will of God,” he offered himself and was accepted as a missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). Most, including his pastor, were dead set against his “throwing his life away among the cannibals.” In a classic exchange, one “dear old Christian gentleman repeatedly exhorted me, ‘The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!’ At last I replied, ‘Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is to soon be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms. And in the great day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.’”

John and his wife, Mary Ann , arrived on the island of Tanna in 1858. The Tannese were curious about them and the Patons had to learn to communicate by gesture and trial and error until they learned the language. They found the people scantily clad, friendly but deceptive, thieving, glorying “in bloodshed, war, and cannibalism,” superstitious, and worshiping nearly everything. When the Patons began to teach them that God wanted them to ”throw away their idols and stop their wrongdoing,” persecution began.

Mrs. Paton and their baby boy died in the same month in 1859. “But for Jesus, and the fellowship He gave me there, I would certainly have gone mad and died beside that lonely grave.”

After a time some men came, like Nicodemus, at night to talk to John. A few believed, but persecution was the norm. John was in danger of his life many times. Sometimes he was led to hide somewhere, but other times, while men were facing him with spears, he kept on about his work as if he didn’t notice them, and God restrained their hands. Once he even directly challenged them to go through their rituals by which they curse people by making incantations over a piece of food from which that person has eaten, to prove that his God was greater than theirs, and God prevailed. He did have to leave the island eventually, escaping for his life. He went to Australia and Scotland to report to churches there. He came back with a wife and many new missionaries. The islanders were amazed that missionaries would return after the way they had been treated, and said, “If your God makes you do that, we may yet worship Him too.”

John and his new wife settled on the island of Aniwa. Though they faced some of the same problems as in Tanna, the Lord did bless them with a fruitful harvest there. Amazingly “the sinking of a well broke the back of dark religion on Aniwa.” The island did not receive much rain and much of the drinking water was not good. John decided to try to sink a well; the islanders thought he was mad. “Rain comes only from above. How could you expect our island to send us showers of rain from below?” The chief was afraid that Paton’s “wild talk” would cause the people to never listen to his word or believe him again. They were also concerned that he would die in the hole he was digging, and then the next English ship that came by would hold them accountable. He was able to persuade them to help him by offering fishing hooks for labor. They gladly labored, though they still thought he was going mad, until one side of the well caved in; then they were afraid and worried and would help no longer.

John was able to shore up the side of the well and take precautions against another cave-in. He had prayed about the location of the well and struggled with the fear that they might find salty water rather than fresh.

Finally the day came that he broke through and found good, fresh water. He filled a jug, climbed out of the well, and called the people over to taste it. They were amazed at the water he found and grateful that he would share the well with them. They offered to help him finish it in earnest. Later the islanders tried to sink several wells in various villages, but they either came to coral rock they could not penetrate or to salt water.

Chief Namakei asked if he could “preach” one Sunday. The book records one of the most beautiful sermons I have ever read. The essence of it was that, though they laughed and disbelieved when “Missi” (teacher) said he would find “rain coming up through the earth,” yet Jehovah God answered his prayers. “No God of Aniwa has ever answered prayers as the Missi’s God has done….The gods of Aniwa cannot hear, cannot help us like the God of Missi.” He felt that since what the Missi had said about the invisible water under the earth was true, then what he said about the invisible God was true, too, and he would worship Him. “He (Jehovah) will give us all we need for He sent His Son Jesus to die for us and bring us to heaven. This is what the Missi has been telling us every day since he landed on Aniwa. We laughed at him, but now we believe him.”

There followed a great burning of idols of many of the islanders and many were converted. They began to come to the church services and were baptized. John wrote, after a communion service, “At the moment when I put the bread and wine into those hands, once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to Jesus, I had a foretaste of the joy of heaven that almost burst my heart in pieces. I will never taste a deeper bliss till I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus Himself.”

PatonJohn wrote his autobiography in three parts at three different times in his life. Benjamin Unseth used about one-fifth of the material in the three parts written by Mr. Paton to form a shorter biography simply titled John Paton, part of the Men of Faith Series published by Bethany House.

(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)

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

Laudable Linkage

Here are some noteworthy reads from the last couple of weeks:

Two pieces on the historicity of the first Adam, a current hot topic: Our Make-Believe Parents: When Adam Becomes More Fiction Than Fact and 19 Resources on the Historicity of Adam.

Grace Incognito. “I may like the idea of portraying the strong Christian woman weathering adversity with a brave face, but I don’t get to choose the scene of my martyrdom that will show off my good side. But what if the point isn’t sprinting across the finish line in record time, but knowing God in every halting, baby step along the way?”

One Step. “One step — one cross-shaped, trusting step of faith in a loving, good, and sovereign God — gives purpose to pain, turns mourning into dancing, and transforms everything (yes, everything) into a gift…And I have a visual of grace that I will never, ever forget.”

Savor “Every” Moment? This humorous piece reminds us that young moms in the trenches need more from us than the admonition to savor every moment because it all passes so quickly. They need to know we remember the trenches and survived them.

How to Criticize a Preacher.

Distinguishing Between Truth and the Bearer of Truth. This kind of goes along with the one above. I’ve had a possible blog post percolating in the back of my mind along these lines, but no time to write it out.

A Concerned Mother’s Letter to Teen-age Girls.

Thinking Evangelically About Tim Tebow. “I fear that the Tebow-mania is just another manifestation of the way evangelicals think cultural cache and celebrity influence is vital to the cause of Christ. When I read the Bible, I see the opposite, actually, how God uses the low, the weak, the despised, the cultural cast-offs to further his kingdom. I am not against Christians in the entertainment or athletic spotlights, of course, but I am against the idolization of these people, which I think much of our fandom becomes. To be clear: The cause of Christ is not dependent on Tim Tebow’s success in the NFL. And, by the way, neither is his witness!”

Can Oyster, the “Netflix For Books,” Be Successful?

Hope you have a great Saturday!