Friday, June 1, 2018

Bible Review: Beyond Suffering Bible

Beyond Suffering Bible NLT: Where Struggles Seem Endless, God's Hope Is Infinite. Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni & Friends, Inc. 2016. Tyndale. 1696 pages. [Source: Bought]

I finished the NLT Beyond Suffering Bible yesterday. I loved, loved, LOVED it. I decided to read it cover-to-cover, Genesis to Revelation. This isn't my typical way to read the Bible. But now and then it's the just-right way for me to do so.

It is the New Living Translation. Now, I'll be honest, the NLT is not in my top three translations of choice. Or even in my top five really. But. Because of the resources in this one, I definitely find the trade off worth it.

The special features make this a WOW Bible. Or perhaps I should amend that to say with the ever-steady INFLUENCE and HELP of the Holy Spirit the special features can lead to some wow moments. 

 Bible introductions. True, other Bibles have Bible introductions. But each Bible introduction in this one stresses key suffering and disability themes found within that book of the Bible. (In addition to giving the basics you'd expect.)

For example, these are the Key Suffering and Disability Themes found in the book of Jeremiah:
  • God’s words are sweet. In the midst of our suffering, God’s words bring joy and delight (Jeremiah 15:16), even when they do not promise immediate relief. In contrast, words of false prophets who provide empty promises are bitter poison (Jeremiah 23:13-16). But when we pay attention to God’s words, we can have peace as we trust in his sovereign plan.
  • Give us ears to hear. Jeremiah rebuked the people for failing to listen to and obey God (Jeremiah 7:2426Jeremiah 17:23-2427). When pain strikes, we often become locked inside our own minds, unable to communicate with others. God is not confined by such restraints. He always listens and responds when we pay attention to his voice.
  • God is our source of knowledge. Jeremiah castigated humanity for lacking knowledge (Jeremiah 10:14), because knowledge is linked with “fear of the LORD” (Prov 9:10). Fears about weakness and inadequacy often flood our minds. Knowing God, the source of all knowledge, helps us see that our human fears can be removed and replaced with his loving presence (1 Jn 4:18). A healthy awe of our Creator calms our minds and becomes the lens through which everything else is made clear.
And the Key Suffering and Disability Themes found in the book of Lamentations
  • Sorrow must be faced head-on. Jeremiah dearly loved the city of Jerusalem, but he did not defend her innocence, writing that her tragic destruction was the result of her own weaknesses. Sorrow and sin must always be faced head on. It is this no-nonsense, raw approach that allows hope to grow in the fertile ground left from the ashes of suffering. By being honest with our failings and honest about our sorrow, we allow God to turn our hearts back to him so that he can give us the hope of the renewal he has promised.
  • Lament implies trust in God. Jeremiah expressed real anger and “negative” emotions—several poems in this book reflect deep heartache, frustration, and hopelessness. There are those today who believe that even in the face of unspeakable struggles, lamenting indicates a lack of faith in God. On the contrary, lament can be an implicit expression of one’s trust in God. Lament shows our awareness that God cares for us and can change our circumstances. God doesn’t view lament as a critical review of our problems, but as a form of praise offered in anticipation of the ways in which he may yet reveal himself.
Connection Points. These are brief notes that provide commentary and application. While there aren't as many notes as you'd' find in a study Bible like the ESV Study Bible or the John MacArthur Study Bible, I think that's a good thing overall. These notes are concise and helpful.
Genesis 3:15 A Promise of Victory. When God put hostility between the serpent and the woman’s offspring, he opened the way for our eventual redemption. Sometimes referred to as the protoevangelium (“first gospel”), this is the first promise in Scripture of God’s final victory over evil and a full restoration of the cosmos to its intended state—free from the effects of sin. These are words of great hope for those who suffer.
Exodus 3:14 Intimacy with God. God is not bound by time, space, or other limitations. As the Timeless One, he is able to walk with us through all our struggles and sufferings, never growing weary or running out of options (Isa 40:28). Jesus, the great “I AM” incarnate (John 8:2458), invited all those who “are weary and carry heavy burdens” to find rest in him (Matt 11:28-29).
Exodus 40:36-38 The Christian Life. A large part of the journey of faith is learning to walk with God instead of running ahead of him. The key to discerning God’s direction in our lives is resting in his presence. We may not always be certain which way we should go, but when we “remain in [him]” (John 15:4), the Good Shepherd will never lead us astray (John 10:14; see also Ps 23).
Ruth 2:19-20 Family Support. Often in our suffering, we withdraw from those around us, particularly our family. And sometimes families can be uncaring. However, as we see in the example of Ruth and Boaz, family members can also be amazing agents of God’s love and support. Consider gently reaching out to your family in your suffering. They may be waiting, unsure of how to help and looking for you to provide them with directions.

Job 7:3 Chronic Struggles. Job did not suffer for a short period of time. He was “assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery.” Chronic illness and disability are not evidence of God’s lack of involvement in our lives. Instead, suffering can often serve to deepen our relationship with the Lord, who suffered in our place and stands alongside us in the midst of our suffering.
Lamentations 2:11-12  The Plight of Children. Jeremiah didn’t just have passing thoughts about the destruction of Jerusalem, he lived through it. He anguished over not being able to bring greater comfort to his people, especially the children. The majority of children around the world with disabilities live below the poverty level, which compounds their struggles. Even today, childhood deaths due to starvation continue to increase. Ask God what you can do both in your community and around the world to help ease the suffering of children.

Mark 8:31-33 Suffering Does Not Define Us. Many know Jesus as the Suffering Servant. In this passage, Jesus reminds us that his suffering was not a surprise but rather something he knew was coming and chose to face head on. Yet it is easy to forget that Jesus’ life was not all about suffering. The stories preserved about Jesus’ life in the Gospels attest that the human experiences of joy, love, parties, and sleep were just as much a part of his daily life as suffering was. Suffering was not the only thing to define him. Suffering is not the only thing that defines any one of us.

Romans 8:28-29 Becoming like the Son. It can be hard to believe that God is working everything “together for the good of those who love God” in the midst of pain, sickness, heartache, or financial uncertainty. How can such trials be for our benefit? How can this verse bring comfort, even though it sometimes feels like a trite platitude? We must look to the full counsel of Romans, where Paul also teaches that problems and trials help refine our character (5:3-4). And when our character better reflects Christ, more people are able to see what God is doing in our lives, and they are drawn to him.
Romans 8:35-37 God Stays! Trouble does not come because God has abandoned us. Christ’s love is not withdrawn because of disability, struggle, financial ruin, lies, or depression. God is present with us in both good and bad. The Holy Spirit cries out on our behalf when we are unable to find the words (8:26-27). Suffering is not a sign that God has left you. It never has been, and it never will be.
Profiles. The Beyond the Suffering Bible contains profiles of Bible characters--like you'd expect--but it also contains profiles of ordinary--or not so ordinary--people who know a lot about suffering and/or disabilities. These are inspirational and insightful.

From the profile on Noah
  • Given the depravity of his culture—which was probably worse than our own—Noah’s life must not have been easy. But Noah stood firm, even when the call came to build the ark. Take a stand for righteousness Before the flood, Noah likely suffered a great deal of ridicule and scorn from skeptics around him. It must have been painful to watch his friends and neighbors ignore his warnings of God’s impending judgment. When the great flood finally came, Noah witnessed firsthand the destructive fury of God’s wrath against sin and evil poured out on all creation.
  • No matter how severe the calamity, distress, or difficulty, God’s purposes continue and always prevail. Like Noah, we are called to take a stand for righteousness in the midst of evil. It won’t always be easy, convenient, or comfortable. But in the end, we have God’s covenant to protect and watch over us. What better promise could we have than that?
Devotionals. I don't always love devotionals. But these devotionals seem to be the exception to the rule. Here is one from the book of Jeremiah:

Two Roads, Two Choices Jer 24:1-10 Two brothers. Two responses. Two roads. The theme introduced in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel runs all the way through the Bible to Revelation: Choose God or false gods, righteousness or wickedness, wisdom or foolishness, the narrow way or the wide way. The “two-road” metaphor also appears in Jeremiah 24 in the vision of two baskets of figs. God asked the prophet what he saw, and Jeremiah responded that he saw a basket of good figs and a basket of figs that were rotten and useless. The two baskets represented the responses of God’s people under sustained suffering. While both groups had stumbled, some of the people would eventually turn and choose to honor God. The others simply turned their backs on the ways of the Lord, and God told Jeremiah to treat them like rotten figs. We don’t like to think about God turning away from his people, but these examples instruct us in learning to make the right choices. God cannot tolerate an unrepentant lifestyle of sin. Paul documents God’s response to those who lived lives of ongoing wickedness: “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Rom 1:28). There are consequences when we make the wrong choice. We don’t like to think about God turning away from his people, but these examples instruct us in learning to make the right choices. God cannot tolerate an unrepentant lifestyle of sin. Paul documents God’s response to those who lived lives of ongoing wickedness: “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Rom 1:28). There are consequences when we make the wrong choice.
Words from Joni. These are letters spread throughout the Bible. Here's a brief excerpt from one found in the book of Jeremiah:
My best memories give shape to that hopeful future promised in Jeremiah 29:11. Your memories—especially if you’ve lost a loved one, or your health, or your ability to think clearly—should inspire hope in you, too. For as wonderful as the world was when all those special remembrances occurred—as wonderful as it was when my hands worked—these things are only a foretaste of more delightful, pleasurable experiences to come. Jesus is the one who makes our futures bright. Jesus assures us that our best memories will one day blossom into a more joyous reality than we can ever imagine. He is our hope (1 Tim 1:1). What are the memories of things you’ve lost? How might those memories inspire hope in you today? How might those remembrances draw you closer to Jesus, the God of all hope? Grab hold of this verse—Jeremiah 29:11—and so many other Scriptures that promise the world. Oh, not this world, but the world to come!
Articles. These are found at the back of the Bible.

  • God's Story of Disability The Unfolding Plan from Genesis to Revelation by David C. Deuel, PHD
  • A Biblical View on the Sanctity of Life by Joni Eareckson Tada
  • Why Am I Disabled? Reflections on Life's Questions and God's Answers by Christopher Ralston, PHD
  • The Constant Distraction: Living with Chronic Pain by Michael J. Easley, DMIN
  • An Innocent Addiction by Stephen F. Arterburn, MED
  • How To Be A Loving Friend to Those Affected by Disability by Mark W. Baker, PHD
  • Becoming a Welcoming Church: God's Urgent Call to Disability Ministry by Steve Bundy, MA
  • Hope: Heaven, Our Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada

Some of my favorite quotes:
Every God-honoring response to a trial increases your capacity to praise God and enjoy him forever. Joni Eareckson Tada
Through Jesus’ death on the cross, God will lift the Curse that brought disability. People with disabilities will no longer need a law to protect them, prophecy to offer them hope, or instruction to correct misunderstandings about disability. For now, we eagerly await our assured deliverance from the suffering associated with disability. David C. Deuel
We have an immortal soul, and we were made to glorify and magnify the Lord. As image-bearers, we are all equal. This is so critical to how we relate to people with disabilities. Joni Eareckson Tada
If we can embrace the view that we are not defined by our disability, pain, or disease, we can minister to others. A major turning point is not only refusing to be defined by our situation, but also seeing others with hearts of compassion and knowing that we can encourage them because of our pain. I call it “imperceptible influence.” You and I have no idea how we are being used by Christ. Simply pressing on, staying in the Word, choosing not to whine, learning to have a healthy sense of humor in the midst of trials, affirming others in their gifting, and trying to encourage those who struggle in similar situations are ways Christ works through us. Your faithfulness to him and your compassion for others may never be graded in this life, but don’t underestimate the possibility that God is using you and that you have that imperceptible influence. Michael J. Easley
Comfort actually has nothing to do with removing suffering; it is about offering another person strength as they endure suffering. We do not need to remove suffering from our lives or the lives of those we love because we can find God there in the midst of it. We often misunderstand the point of comforting others. We think we are supposed to come up with pithy phrases that will distract them from their pain or that we are supposed to be an agent of some miraculous cure. But actually, the true meaning of providing comfort is to simply be with others in their pain. You don’t need to know what to say, and you don’t need to do anything in particular. Mark W. Baker

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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