Friday, April 28, 2017

Book Review: Martin Luther In His Own Words

Martin Luther In His Own Words. Jack D. Kilcrease and Erwin Lutzer, editors. 2017. Baker Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is a book you will want to read more than once.

In the introduction, Lutzer writes:
We can neither forget Luther nor ignore him. Even today his writings still constitute a doctrinal divide that has shaped Western Christianity. He wrote and spoke on many topics, such as the relationship of the church and state, Christian marriage, and the growing menace of the Turks who were overrunning parts of Europe. But his greatest contribution had to do with the nature of salvation, the sinfulness of humanity, and the wonder of God’s grace.
Jack Kilcrease has written introductions (and footnotes) for each excerpt from Martin Luther's works.

The book is divided--rightly so--into five sections: "Sola Fide," "Sola Gratia," "Sola Scriptura," "Solus Christus," "Soli Deo Gloria." Each section contains a few selections from Luther's works. For example, "Sola Fide," features On Christian Liberty and an excerpt from Luther's Commentary on Galatians.

I really LOVED this one. It has been only recently that I've dared to read Martin Luther himself as opposed to just reading about Martin Luther. So far I've just read The Three Treatises. But this book made me want to read MORE…and more this year!

I would recommend this one to anyone looking to be introduced to Martin Luther or the Reformation.

But one thing is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty. That is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25); and also, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36); and, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Let us therefore hold to be firmly established that the soul can do without everything except the Word of God, without which none at all of its wants are provided for. But, having the Word, it is rich and lacks nothing, since that is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, justification, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, virtue, grace, glory, and all good things. It is on this account that the prophet in a whole psalm (Ps. 119) and in many other places sighs for and calls on the Word of God with so many groans and words. 
There is no crueler blow of the wrath of God than when he sends a famine of hearing his words (Amos 8:11). Likewise, there is no greater favor from him than the sending forth of his Word, as it is said, “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (Ps. 107:20). 
To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone, and the efficacious use of the Word of God, brings salvation. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). And again, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4); and, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). For the Word of God cannot be received and honored by any works, but by faith alone. Hence it is clear that as the soul needs the Word alone for life and justification, so it is justified by faith alone and not by any works. For if it could be justified by any other means, it would have no need of the Word, nor consequently of faith. 

Christ is God and man in one person, and as neither has sinned, nor dies, nor is condemned—indeed, cannot sin, die, or be condemned—and since his righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and almighty, therefore I say that when such a person, by the wedding ring of faith, takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of his wife—indeed, makes them his own—and deals with them in no other way than as if they were his and as if he himself had sinned; and when he suffers, dies, and descends to hell, that he may overcome all things, since sin, death, and hell cannot swallow him up, they must be swallowed up by him in stupendous conflict. For his righteousness rises above the sins of all men, his life is more powerful than all death, and his salvation is more unconquerable than all hell. Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its husband, Christ. 
Who then can value this royal marriage highly enough? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious prostitute, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid on Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband, Christ, a righteousness that she may claim as her own and that she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine,” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16). This is what Paul says: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”—victory over sin and death, as he says: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:57, 56). 
Christ has gained for us this favor, if we believe in him, that just as we are his brethren and coheirs and fellow kings with him, so we should be also fellow priests with him and venture with confidence through the spirit of faith to come into the presence of God and cry “Abba, Father!” and to pray for one another, and to do all things that we see done and figured in the visible and earthly office of priesthood.
Now preaching ought to have the object of promoting faith in him, so that he may not only be Christ but a Christ for you and for me, and that what is said of him and what he is called may work in us. And this faith is produced and is maintained by preaching why Christ came, what he has brought us and given to us, and to what profit and advantage he is to be received.
The curse of God is like a flood that swallows everything that is not of faith. To avoid the curse we must hold on to the promise of the blessing in Christ.
“Sin” in the Scriptures means not only external works of the body but also all those movements within us that stir themselves up and move us to do the external works—namely, the depth of the heart with all its powers. Therefore the word “do” should refer to a person’s completely falling into sin. No external work of sin happens, after all, unless a person commits himself to it completely, body and soul. In particular, the Scriptures see into the heart, to the root and main source of all sin: unbelief in the depth of the heart. Thus, even as faith alone makes just and brings the Spirit and the desire to do good external works, so it is only unbelief that sins and exalts the flesh and brings desire to do evil external works. That is what happened to Adam and Eve in Paradise (cf. Gen. 3).
Faith is not that human illusion and dream that some people think it is. When they hear and talk a lot about faith and yet see that no moral improvement and no good works result from it, they fall into error and say, “Faith is not enough. You must do works if you want to be virtuous and get to heaven.” The result is that, when they hear the gospel, they stumble and make for themselves with their own powers a concept in their hearts that says, “I believe.” This concept they hold to be true faith. But since it is a human fabrication and thought and not an experience of the heart, it accomplishes nothing, and there follows no improvement.
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active, powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith should ever stop doing good works. Faith does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever does not do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works. Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith.
The first duty of a preacher of the gospel is, through his revealing of the law and of sin, to rebuke and to turn into sin everything in life that does not have the Spirit and faith in Christ as its base. Thereby he will lead people to a recognition of their miserable condition, and thus they will become humble and yearn for help.
The clarity of the Scripture is twofold, just as the obscurity is also twofold. The one is external, placed in the ministry of the Word; the other internal, placed in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures but he that has the Spirit of God. All have a darkened heart so that, even if they know how to speak of and set forth all things in the Scripture, yet they cannot feel them nor know them. Neither do they believe that they are the creatures of God, or anything else according to that of Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” For the Spirit is necessary to understand the whole of the Scripture and every part of it. If you speak of the external clearness, nothing at all is left obscure or ambiguous. But all things that are in the Scriptures are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world.
What help is it to you that God is God if he is not God for you?
Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you see his crown of thorns? Believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts! Where one thorn pierces Christ, there more than a thousand thorns should pierce you; indeed, they should eternally even more painfully pierce you. Where one nail is driven through his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer this and even more painful nails, as will be also visited on those who let Christ’s sufferings be lost and fruitless as far as they are concerned. For this truthful mirror, Christ, will neither deceive nor mock. For whatever he says must be fully realized.
You must at the time of death, if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake, and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to be confronted with this on your deathbed. Therefore you should pray to God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate on Christ’s Passion. For it is impossible for us to meditate profoundly on the sufferings of Christ by ourselves unless God presses them into our hearts.
Cast your sins from yourself and on Christ; believe with a celebratory spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Isaiah 53:6 says: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”; and St. Peter in his First Epistle (2:24): “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On these and like passages you must rely completely, and so much the more when your conscience torments you. For if you do not take this course but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace and must yet finally despair out of doubt [in your salvation]. For if we deal with the sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For on Christ they cannot rest; there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you will now see no wound, no pain, in him—that is, no sign of sin.
If a day of sorrow or sickness weighs you down, think how trifling that is compared with the thorns and nails of Christ.
The law of Moses leaves no loopholes. It says that a transgressor should be hanged. Who are the other sinners? We are. The sentence of death and everlasting damnation had long been pronounced over us. But Christ took all our sins and died for them on the cross. “He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest sinner, murderer, adulterer, thief, and blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When he took the sins of the whole world on himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer, Peter who denied Christ, and David who committed adultery and murder and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men that he should pay for them with his own blood. The curse struck him. The law found him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had gone so far as to invest himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the law judged and hanged him for a sinner.
Being the unspotted Lamb of God, Christ was personally innocent. But because he took the sins of the world, his sinlessness was defiled with the sinfulness of the world. Whatever sins I, you, all of us have committed or shall commit, they are Christ’s sins as if he had committed them himself. Our sins have to be Christ’s sins or we shall perish forever.
What a relief for a Christian to know that Christ is covered all over with my sins, your sins, and the sins of the whole world.
The sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, fastened themselves on Christ and condemned him. But because Christ is God, he had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness. These two, the sin of the world and the righteousness of God, met in a death struggle. Furiously the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God. Righteousness is immortal and invincible. On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men. This tyrant pounces on Christ. But Christ’s righteousness is unconquerable. The result is inevitable. Sin is defeated, and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.
In the same manner was death defeated. Death is emperor of the world. He strikes down kings, princes, all men. He has an idea to destroy all life. But Christ has immortal life, and life immortal gained the victory over death. Through Christ death has lost its sting. Christ is the death of death. The curse of God waged a similar battle with the eternal mercy of God in Christ. The curse meant to condemn God’s mercy. But it could not do it because the mercy of God is everlasting. The curse had to give way. If the mercy of God in Christ had lost out, God himself would have lost out, which, of course, is impossible.
When we hear that Christ was made a curse for us, let us believe it with joy and assurance. By faith, Christ changes places with us. He gets our sins; we get his holiness.
Whenever sin and death make you nervous, write it down as an illusion of the devil. There is no sin now, no curse, no death, and no devil because Christ has done away with them.
Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be based and rest on obedience to God, irrespective of our person, whether we are sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy. And we must know that God will not treat it like a joke but be angry and punish all who do not pray, as surely as he punishes all other disobedience. Beyond this, he will not suffer our prayers to be in vain or lost. For if he did not intend to answer your prayer, he would not bid you pray and add such a severe commandment to it. In the second place, we should be the more urged and incited to pray because God has also added a promise and declared that it shall surely be done to us as we pray, as he says [in] Psalm 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” And Christ in the Gospel of St. Matthew 7:7–8: “Ask, and it will be given to you. . . . For everyone who asks receives.” Such promises ought certainly to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight, since he testifies with his [own] word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to him, moreover, that it shall assuredly be heard and granted, in order that we may not despise it or think lightly of it and pray at a venture.
But how does [the name of God] become holy among us? The plainest answer can be given as [this]: When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian. For since in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty always to conduct ourselves as godly children, that he may receive not shame but honor and praise from us. Now the name of God is profaned by us either in words or deed. (For whatever we do on the earth must be either words or deeds, speech or act.) In the first place, then, it is profaned when men preach, teach, and speak in the name of God what is false and misleading so that his name serves as a means to adorn and to make acceptable their falsehood. Indeed, that is the greatest profanation and dishonor of the divine name. Furthermore, [the name of God is profaned] also when men, by swearing, cursing, conjuring, etc., grossly abuse the holy name as a covering for their shame.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

April Operation Deepen Faith Check-In

I. Wonderful Words of Life

  • What have you been reading in the Bible?
  • What books have you finished?
  • What book are you currently in?
  • Do you know what your next book of the Bible will be?
  • Which translation are you using?
  • What have you learned about God lately?
  • What have you learned about yourself?
  • Any favorite verses?

II Christian Nonfiction

  • Have you finished any books for the challenge this month?
  • What book are you currently reading for the challenge?
  • Do you know what book you'll be reading next?
  • Any favorite quotes?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Year with Henry #17

This year I will be reading Matthew Henry's Concise Bible Commentary alongside the American Standard Version (1901). I will share quotes a few times a month.

Genesis 19

  • Lot lingered; he trifled. Thus many who are under convictions about their spiritual state, and the necessity of a change, defer that needful work. The salvation of the most righteous men is of God’s mercy, not by their own merit. We are saved by grace. God’s power also must be acknowledged in bringing souls out of a sinful state If God had not been merciful to us, our lingering had been our ruin. 
  •  Rest not in self and the world. Reach toward Christ and heaven, for that is escaping to the mountain, short of which we must not stop.
  • Let him that thinks he stands high, and stands firm, take heed lest he fall.

Matthew 18

  • Many love to hear and speak of privileges and glory, who are willing to pass by the thoughts of work and trouble.
  • The outward occasions of sin must be avoided. If we live after the flesh, we must die. If we, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. Christ came into the world to save souls, and he will reckon severely with those who hinder the progress of others who are setting their faces heavenward. And shall any of us refuse attention to those whom the Son of God came to seek and to save? A father takes care of all his children, but is particularly tender of the little ones.
  • In all our proceedings we should seek direction in prayer; we cannot too highly prize the promises of God. Wherever and whenever we meet in the name of Christ, we should consider him as present in the midst of us.
  • The debt of sin is so great, that we are not able to pay it. See here what every sin deserves; this is the wages of sin, to be sold as a slave. It is the folly of many who are under strong convictions of their sins, to fancy they can make God satisfaction for the wrong they have done him.
  • Let our complaints, both of the wickedness of the wicked, and of the afflictions of the afflicted, be brought to God, and left with him.
  • The greatness of sin magnifies the riches of pardoning mercy; and the comfortable sense of pardoning mercy, does much to dispose our hearts to forgive our brethren. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review: Unveiled Hope

Unveiled Hope: Eternal Encouragement from the Book of Revelation. 1997. 244 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

First sentence: As I write these words I am sitting at the foot of the Swiss Alps in the little fishing village of Iseltwald, just outside of Interlaken.

Scotty Smith and Michael Card walk readers through the book of Revelation in Unveiled Hope. Scotty Smith's sections are prefaced "From the Word," and Michael Card's sections are prefaced "From the Song."

Is it a commentary? Yes and no. Is it a devotional? No and yes.
It does not go chapter by chapter, verse by verse. It is not an analysis of Revelation word by word or phrase by phrase. It is not a dry, scholarly approach intent on cramming your mind with hundreds of facts and details. The purpose seems to be to awaken a deep, passionate desire and longing for the LORD--to cultivate a heart of WORSHIP, of devotion. It serves the purpose of a devotional certainly. But. People have such narrow ideas of what a devotional is: One or two pages of text that can be read in under five minutes, preferably with cup of coffee or tea in hand, something clear enough that can be read with foggy early-morning mind. The chapters in Unveiled Hope vary in length.  But most are about twenty pages long!!!

One thing the book is emphatically not is a book about end-times prophecy.

Chapter 1: Revelation 1
Chapter 2: Revelation 2-3
Chapter 3: Revelation 4
Chapter 4: Revelation 5:1-8; 11-14
Chapter 5: Revelation 5:9-10
Chapter 6: Revelation 6:1-8:1
Chapter 7: Revelation 8:2-10:11; 11:15-19
Chapter 8: Revelation 11:1-14
Chapter 9: Revelation 12-14
Chapter 10: Revelation 15-18
Chapter 11: Revelation 19
Chapter 12: Revelation 20
Chapter 13: Revelation 21-22
Epilogue: Revelation 22:6-21

I love, love, love, LOVE, love-like-crazy the book of Revelation. The key for me was learning to read the book in one glorious sitting. Reading the whole book at once--one is overwhelmed magnificently with the glory of God, with the weight of his glory, with the incredible depth and beauty of the good news. How could you see the book as anything but a worship book?! When read in one sitting, one doesn't have time to be scared about this verse or that verse; one doesn't have time to speculate.

This book was a good fit for me--for the most part.

I personally have received more help in enduring my everyday problems from studying Revelation than from any other portion of God's Word in the nearly thirty years I have been a Christian. And I have received more guidance for how to live the Christian life and how to begin a new church from this book than from any other. Revelation is not just a guidebook for dealing with the end times; it is a guidebook for every day of our lives. ~ Scotty Smith
It is primarily written to call us to live to the glory of God, right here and now, with hearts filled with His peace. ~ Scotty Smith
No other book in the Bible gives us a more inviting and overwhelming picture of Jesus. Here is Jesus as He really is. Jesus, as He wants to be known. Jesus, who alone is worthy of our adoration, our affection, and our allegiance. ~ Scotty Smith
One of the greatest joys and one of the most sobering realities in the Christian life is to realize that we serve a God who has chosen to reveal Himself and to give us His written Word. ~ Scotty Smith 
Every generation of Christians needs to be reminded that our God reigns. The sovereignty of God, just like the grace of God, is a major theme that permeates all twenty-two chapters of Revelation. ~ Scotty Smith

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Year with Owen #17

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The second book I'll be reading is Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It.

“Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” (Matt. 26: 41). These words of our Savior are repeated with very little alteration in three evangelists; only, whereas Matthew and Mark have recorded them as above written, Luke reports them thus: “Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation” [Luke 22: 46]; so that the whole of his caution seems to have been, “Arise, watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.” ~ John Owen
All our own strength is weakness, and all our wisdom folly. ~ John Owen
There are three things in the words: (1) The evil cautioned against— temptation; (2) the means of its prevalency— by our entering into it; (3) the way of preventing it— watch and pray. ~ John Owen
So temptation is like a knife, that may either cut the meat or the throat of a man; it may be his food or his poison, his exercise or his destruction. ~ John Owen
Now, as to God’s tempting of any, two things are to be considered: (1) The end why he does it; (2) The way whereby he does it. ~ John Owen
Grace and corruption lie deep in the heart; men oftentimes deceive themselves in the search after the one or the other of them. ~ John Owen
God does it to show himself unto man, and that— In a way of preventing grace. A man shall see that it is God alone who keeps from all sin. Until we are tempted, we think we live on our own strength. Though all men do this or that, we will not [cf. Matt. 26: 35]. When the trial comes, we quickly see whence is our preservation, by standing or falling. ~ John Owen
God does it to show himself unto man, and that—In a way of renewing grace. He would have the temptation continue with St. Paul, that he might reveal himself to him in the sufficiency of his renewing grace (2 Cor. 12: 9). We know not the power and strength that God puts forth in our behalf, nor what is the sufficiency of his grace, until, comparing the temptation with our own weakness, it appears unto us. ~ John Owen
The efficacy of an antidote is found when poison has been taken; and the preciousness of medicines is made known by diseases. We shall never know what strength there is in grace if we know not what strength there is in temptation. We must be tried, that we may be made sensible of being preserved. ~ John Owen
Many men know not what is in them, or rather what is ready for them, until they are put upon what seems utterly above their strength, indeed, upon what is really above their strength. ~ John Owen
The duties that God, in an ordinary way, requires at our hands are not proportioned to what strength we have in ourselves, but to what help and relief is laid up for us in Christ; and we are to address ourselves to the greatest performances with a settled persuasion that we have not ability for the least. This is the law of grace; but yet, when any duty is required that is extraordinary, that is a secret not often discovered. In the yoke of Christ it is a trial, a temptation. ~ John Owen
Now, they are not properly the temptations of God, as coming from him, with his end upon them, that are here intended; and therefore I shall set these apart from our present consideration. ~ John Owen
In this sense temptation may proceed either singly from Satan, or the world, or other men in the world, or from ourselves, or jointly from all or some of them, in their several combinations ~ John Owen
Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatsoever, has a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatsoever. In particular, that is a temptation to any man which causes or occasions him to sin, or in anything to go off from his duty, either by bringing evil into his heart, or drawing out that evil that is in his heart, or any other way diverting him from communion with God and that constant, equal, universal obedience, in matter and manner, that is required of him. ~ John Owen
Be it what it will, that from anything whatsoever, within us or without us, has advantage to hinder in duty, or to provoke unto or in any way to occasion sin— that is a temptation, and so to be looked on. ~ John Owen

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Music Review: John A Misunderstood Messiah

John: A Misunderstood Messiah
Michael Card

1. The Bread, the Light, The Life
2. Come and See
3. The One Who Was Sent
4. How Can These Things Be?
5. All I've Ever Done
6. Come to Me and Drink
7. Scribbling in the Sand
8. Jesus Wept
9. One Long Final Walk
10. Stranger on the Shore

I am loving this album--just loving it. The entire album is inspired by the Gospel of John. As a few of you probably know already--John is my favorite and best gospel. (John, Revelation, 1 John all are FAVORITES of mine.)

I think all the songs are scriptural and beautiful. I do have a few favorites.

One of my favorite songs is "Jesus Wept" which tells the story of John 11.
Familiar figure comes
And now He's three days late
How could He take so long?
Why did He hesitate?
Two women questioned Him,
Both weeping as they came,
Completely different, yet
And still they're both the same.
Martha's grasping atsome vague religious hope;
And less anxiety she can barely cope.
But Mary's gasping with her own hopeful fear;
Lazarus would not have died,
If you had been here.
Did Jesus weep for their disbelief?
Or did He cry because His friend had died?
Took on Himself all of their pain and fear?
Explain the mystery of the silent tears.
He stood beside the tomb of His beloved friend.
He shouted out these words they could not comprehend.
Then rose the smiling corpse, familiar silhouette;
That was the moment that they never would forget.
Jesus wept that day misterious silent tears,
The reason that He cried never will be clear.
But there's one certain thing, for now that we can say,
He had come to wipe all their tears away.
Did Jesus weep for their disbelief?
Or did He cry because His friend had died?
Took on Himself all of their pain and fear?
Explain the mystery of the silent tears.
There are at least two other songs worth mentioning--highlighting. I love "All I've Ever Done," which tells the story of the woman at the well in John 4. And "One Long Final Walk" which tells the story of John 15-16.

This whole album is WONDERFUL.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: The God I Love

The God I Love. Joni Eareckson Tada. 2003. 368 pages. [Source: Bought]

I dug my toes into the sand of the Delaware beach, hugged my knees, and drew as close to the campfire as I could. The flames warmed our faces while behind us the night air chilled our backs. Huddled with my sisters and cousin, I smelled the burning logs and breathed in the fire’s heat. We all sat in awe of my father. He stood across the campfire from us, a figure a-swirl in rising heat and smoke, his face underlit by flame as if he were a prophet on Mount Sinai. We clutched each other as he wove his story.

This isn't Joni Eareckson Tada's first autobiography. It differs from Joni in that it explores more of her life before and after the diving accident and paralysis. One gets a better picture of her childhood, her family, her hobbies and interests, the times in which she lived, her faith and culture. One also gets a better picture of her faith and ministry after the accident. (Though her accident was no accident, but a work of God's providence.) Joni was published in 1976. So much has happened SINCE the publication of that book. Her marriage, her ministry, her mission trips, her public fight for the rights of the disabled, just to name a few! So even if you've read Joni, you don't know the whole story.

The God I Love, I noticed is almost a love letter to her father and mother--a big thank you. But above all, the focus is on God himself.

My earliest recollections of being stirred by the Spirit happened through hymns. Five-year-olds are able to tuck words into cubbyholes in their hearts, like secret notes stored for a rainy day. All that mattered to me now was that these hymns bound me to the melody of my parents and sisters. The songs had something to do with God, my father, my family, and a small seed of faith safely stored in a heart-closet.
God was only a little bigger than my father. The Lord may have filled the universe, but my dad filled mine. Whereas God kept the planets orbiting, my father was the center of our orbit. And whatever he commanded us was spoken not so much with words but through the sheer force of his own good character. In the spring of 1961, it was God’s responsibility to show young President Kennedy how to run a country, to keep the Russians on their side of the earth, to bring Adolf Eichmann to trial, to keep the Bomb from falling on Woodlawn Elementary, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in his swamp and out of our neighborhood. Everything else was Daddy’s responsibility.
To not believe God was up there was, well, impossible. For one thing, there were the Ten Commandments posted at the front of our classroom, right underneath the American flag. No day at Woodlawn Elementary — at least back in the fifties and early sixties — dared start without a series of rituals: a U.S. Saving Stamps pitch to keep our country strong; the Pledge of Allegiance, to assure liberty and justice for all; the collection of lunch money (thirty-five cents for grilled cheese sandwich, tomato soup, carton of milk, and a Nutty Buddy); all capped off by a daily reading from the Bible.
I wanted to be on God’s side. So I became one of a mass of young people who searched, as one poet put it, for God and truth and right. Some of my passion was fostered by class discussions on segregation. We were assigned to read a book called Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, the true story of a white man who colored his skin black and journeyed south to experience firsthand the stigma of segregation. The hate and horror this man faced left a deep impression on me. My search for truth and right began heating up. I memorized the protest songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary, as well as Joan Baez. I paid attention as the pastor of the little United Methodist Church we attended up by the farm pounded his pulpit about racism and social inequalities. I hung on every word of Mr. Lee as he urged us to examine the issues that were ripping society apart. We discussed injustices in the classroom and brought to light things that needed changing. “Let justice roll down like the mighty waters!” went the Bible verse, quoted from pulpits and coffeehouse stages alike. Yes, God was in. And if I was going to be on God’s side, I had to get better connected with him.
My hair. It became one of two miracles everyone whispered about those first few days at the University of Maryland Hospital. My shocking blonde hair had floated on the surface as I lay half submerged in the water. The other miracle was the blue crab that bit Kathy’s toe just before she stepped out of the shallows and onto the beach. Any other time, Kathy would have bolted to escape what she was convinced were zillions of hungry crabs. But this time, she didn’t race to the safety of her towel. Instead, she turned to warn her little sister. Her sister, whose bright-yellow hair, ebbing and flowing, told her something was wrong.
Something was happening, something for the first time since Jacque lay next to me in the night, singing “Man of Sorrows”: I was caught up in God’s thoughts about me, not my thoughts about him. I was lying in a stream of sunshine, consumed by his compassion for me, not by my anger and doubt about him. My thoughts didn’t even matter now — only his did. Only his mind, his heart. And his mind and heart were communicating clearly, as clearly as all those visionary moments I rode the horse trail, brushing past tree limbs, as clearly as all those nights by the ocean, under the stars. And he was saying, “Come unto me. Let me give you rest.” Yes, yes, I whimpered in my thoughts, I need rest, I just want rest. Rest and peace. God was oh-so clever. During all the chaos in my life, he remained silent for a long, long time. And then — voilà! — he broke through with a quick-witted surprise, a keen twist, an unexpected but brilliant turn of events — like this statue. I would bang-bang-bang on heaven’s door, firing daggers and darts, trying to manipulate him. I would blacken a white page with ink. I’d wail and sulk and thrash my head on a pillow to break my neck higher for spite. And then, this. God would answer, quietly and dramatically. Lying there, I didn’t try to analyze it much more than that. I simply looked into Jesus’ face and basked in his blessing. I hadn’t expected anything like this when I was wheeled into Johns Hopkins. I was here to get my nails cut out. But now I was thinking about other nails, staring at the scars they’d left in the hands of God’s Son. His nails for mine. Here was a God who understood my suffering.
“I like your wheelchair, Aunt Joni,” Kelly told me softly one evening. The two of us were sitting alone at the dinner table, waiting for the others to join us. “You do?” “Yeah,” she said, giving me her endearing grin. “I want one like yours when I grow up.” She caught me up short. All I could do was smile and shake my head at those impish eyes and thick eyelashes, the mop of brown hair cropped from the surgery, the freckles that flattened over her nose and cheeks when she laughed. Kelly scrunched her shoulders and leaned forward in her wheelchair, repeating, “Can I have one like yours?” I gulped hard. In her eyes, my wheelchair was more to be desired than a new collection of My Little Pony dolls or a spiffy new tea set for her and Kay. My chair was a joyride, a passport to adventure. Kelly assumed that my wheels had initiated me into a very special club, a club in which she wanted membership. Yet she didn’t seem to have a clue about the price one actually pays to join such a club. She seemed to discount the pain and the paralysis, the disappointment and the broken dreams. She utterly disregarded the dark side — it wasn’t even worth considering. All she longed for was a chance to be like me, to identify with me, to know Aunt Joni better. But something else was going on too. Those wise eyes of hers gave it away. Kelly wanted me to desire my wheelchair as much as she did. My niece wasn’t just admiring it — she wanted me to do the same. All along I had been trying to cheer her up, to tell her stories and play games with her, even be an example to her. But I had it all wrong. She was leading me. Out of the mouth of this babe, God was showing me how to embrace his will. “Your wheelchair’s neater than mine. I like yours best,” she said again. And you should too, she was saying. Kelly knew — at least, she sure seemed to know — that I was still bogged down by broken dreams. She sensed I still struggled with the dark side, that I didn’t quite know how to accept where I sat. For her, though, it was a cinch. Life had been hard on the farm, her parents argued a lot, and up until the diagnosis of cancer, you couldn’t get her near a tea set. But her suffering had pushed her into the arms of Jesus, and her gracious, openhearted way of accepting — no, embracing — his will had cracked open heaven’s floodgates of blessing. All my niece wanted to do now was talk about Jesus and his heaven, where she would pet giraffes and eat all the ice cream she wanted. Where she would ride bigger ponies, douse ketchup on everything, converse with Papa and Mama Bear, play with Baby Bear, and become an instant grownup.
“Think of a greater affliction — his affliction,” he added. “As you do, you can’t help but embrace him. And as you embrace him, you can’t help but love his will.” That meant something. It was being sure of something I hoped for — being certain of something I couldn’t see. It was, I realized, what having greater faith meant. Not faith in my ability to accept a wheelchair, but faith to embrace Christ, to trust him in spite of — no, because of — my problems. Again, I recalled the first time I tasted the power of the gospel that night in the hills of Virginia. How could I doubt the one who gave his life up for me? I remembered my friend Jacque singing to me in the hospital, the statue at Johns Hopkins, my pleasant life with Jay on the farm, Kelly — and, as always, the stars above the campfires. They were all part of the path Jesus had led me on thus far. How could I not believe him?
“Just make sure you keep pointing people to the Bible,” he finally offered. “Your life story can’t change anyone, but God’s Word can.”
The weaker we are, the harder we must lean on God — and the harder we lean on him, the stronger we discover him to be.
The truly handicapped among us are those who start their mornings on automatic cruise control, without needing God. But he gives strength to all who cry to him for help. So, who are the weak and needy? Who are those who need his help?” A brief pause in the dark shadow of recent events always allowed the point to come home. “It’s you. It’s me.”

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible