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Archive for the ‘Nonfiction–Christian’ Category

The Roots of Endurance

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Hebrews 12:3

William Wilberforce spent 20 years of his political career trying to abolish the African slave trade in England and the next 26 trying to end slavery itself.  Along with this tireless pursuit, he was also involved in over 60 different acts of legislation, from ending animal cruelty to opening up the doors to evangelism in India.  Both his friends and adversaries spoke highly of his tireless, enthusiastic service of his country despite ongoing, almost interminable resistance.  But how did he endure?  What was the source of his perseverance?  This is the subject of John Piper’s excellent book The Roots of Endurance, part 3 in the “Swans Are Not Silent” series of biographies.  This volume focuses on the lives of three men:  John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce.  All three were contemporaries, all knew each other, and had some contact, and all faced incredible opposition which required amazing endurance.  I had heard of Wilberforce and Newton (the former slave ship captain turned preacher and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”), but had never heard of Simeon.  Charles Simeon was the vicar at Trinity Church in Cambridge for over 60 years.  In over 30 years of that time, he faced opposition from the “pew holders” in his congregation who would lock their pews so no one else could sit in them because they did not want this young preacher.  Despite this, Simeon continued to preach God’s word, dedicate himself to the poor and needy, and focus on his role as peacemaker.  The ability of all of these men to endure is Piper’s prime objective, and a look at their lives reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us and spurs us on toward love and good works.  I thoroughly enjoyed this biography and am newly convinced that our posh form of 21st century Christianity has resulted in a mediocrity worse than what Wilberforce accused his contemporaries of.  His book, The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians blamed the lack of morals of his society on the lack of focus on doctrine.  It was doctrine and specifically the doctrine of the cross of Christ that enabled him to endure struggles in politics, in personal relationships, and his ongoing bouts with colitis and other chronic illness.  It was Simeon’s focus on doctrine that enabled him to endure persecution and to count himself as nothing, and everyone else as worthy of his service and esteem.  And it was this same doctrine that gave Newton a love of people and a hatred of his own sin, and caused him to write a hymn that will go down in history as one of the greatest in all Christendom.  If you watched the movie “Amazing Grace”, I challenge you to take a look at the real story and see what truly shaped the lives of these men.  Their lives remind us that trials, though difficult, are able to mold and shape us into vessels truly fit for service of the One who endured such hardship as is impossible to grasp.  Read it again and again, share it with your children around the living room, and let it be one of your “roots of your endurance”.

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Running ScaredIt was a lovely Memorial Day and we decided to spend the evening down at the lake, sitting around the campfire.  Although deeply settled into my log seat and plate of mulberry cobbler, I was still keeping a watchful eye on the sky above.  It was quickly darkening in the west and the occasional drops of rain on my arms had me ready to scramble to save the remnants of our picnic.  I, along with the rest of our friends and family, was in no hurry however, hoping and believing that it was going to blow the other way and pass us by.  I then noticed a child around 12, her brows furrowed and mouth pinched with worry, running back and forth between her two parents, pleading with them to leave.  The other children were playing tag and picking wild irises from along the bank; but she was occupied solely with the task of convincing her parents to pack up and head to the nearest shelter.  I finally gathered that it was her anticipation of the coming storm that prevented her from taking part in the evening revelry.  Her relentless imploring soon turned to anger and disrespect, at her parents’ attempts to assuage her fears.  Her mother, very wisely, addressed the mistrust by asking this question “Do you think that we (your parents) would put you in any danger?”  We were, after all, less than 30 yards from our cars should something blow up suddenly.

After a lengthy and seemingly fruitless banter with her daughter, the mother turned to me and explained that on a recent trip, they had driven through a particularly scary storm where the winds from tornadoes that were touching down had rocked the car back and forth.  Since that time, her daughter had been terrified of thunderstorms.  My thoughts then turned to my own irrational fears.  I have mentioned in previous posts, how I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the ocean; and sometimes, I let this fear get the better of me.  My husband has offered trips to Florida where my initial response was to refuse vehemently, only to find that my only motivation was the fear of a big ocean.  My last pregnancy had me dealing with both the fifth most common phobia “emetophobia” (the fear of throwing up), as well as a very obscure one “arachibutyrophobia” (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth).  But it is not always irrational fears that hold us at bay, keep us from enjoying life, or set a course for our day; it is the everyday worries:  how are we going to pay the electric bill, can we afford to go to the dentist, will our children be healthy, what if I never get married, what if there is no Social Security when I’m ready to retire, what if Iran has nuclear weapons, etc.  Our daily lives are spent navigating through fears, worries, and anxieties that sometimes we don’t even think about; but according to Dr. Ed T. Welch, author of Running Scared:  Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, we should. 

Dr. Welch has a Ph.D. in Neuropsychology from the University of Utah and an Mdiv from the Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA.  He currently works as a counselor, faculty member, and director of the School of Biblical Counselling at the Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, PA.  Dr. Welch says that we should lay all our fears out on the table, be honest about them, and take a good look at them.  What do they reveal about us?  After a perusal of your fears, what would you say you “love” most, or what is most important to you?  Is it your life?  Is it financial security?  Is it food?  After addressing the topic of fears, and that we “all” have them, Dr. Welch then begins talking about God and his character.  God understand his creatures.  He knows that we are fearful people.  It is precisely because our heavenly Father understands and has compassion on our frailties that he says “do not fear” or some variant thereof more times than any other encouragement in scripture.  And it is, after all, an encouragement.  This is not a command from a tyrannical God who says “Do not fear, or else I will wipe you off the planet”.  This is a loving reminder from a Father saying “Do not fear for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10.

Section by section, Dr. Welch lays out God’s words for worried people.  God speaks on:  money and possessions, people and their judgements, and death and punishment.  Whatever your particular fears, the bible has something to say about them, and this book consolidates these truths in a way that whatever your particular anxiety, you can return to these comforting words again and again, and have your thinking transformed and your trust in a faithful God restored.

Chapter after chapter is helpful and needful.  My favorite chapter on the “Manna Principle” is enough information to chew on for a  lifetime (pardon the pun).  Throughout the book, Dr. Welch returns to the real lesson from God giving manna or from the story of Jesus feeding the five-thousand, and that is God desires to reorient us to what is really important–seeking His kingdom first.  If worries and anxieties accomplish one good thing in our lives, it should be to point out to us that our need for God is greater than our need for food and clothing.  God does not discount that we have physical needs, Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knows you have need of these things.”  Mt. 6:32; but there is a greater need we have which is found in the next verse, and that is “the kingdom of God and His righteousness” vs. 33 (emphasis mine).   Knowing that in Jesus, this greatest of all needs is met, should encourage us and strengthen us as we face the other real, but less important needs.

I remember a quote I read years ago while reading Elizabeth Elliott’s Passions and Purity.  Ms. Elliott says, “I was asking God, ‘Take this longing away or give me that for which I long’, and God was saying, ‘I want to teach you to long for something greater’.”  This should be our cry regarding every fear or desire we have, and I believe that Dr. Welch very aptly echoes this truth in his book. 

If you think or especially if you don’t think you have a problem with worry, you need this book.  It is a real encouragement in an age where it is so easy to expect medication for all our psychological ills.  Not that these are never necessary, but lets always be first to run to the one who created our psyches and knows us better than we know our selves.  Every hair on your head is numbered by him, after all.

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A lifetime of walking with Jesus.James 1:22 “…receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls.”

The gardening themes in scripture have always had such rich meanings for me.  Being a lover of gardening myself, I think many times that this is one way I am being an imitator of my Creator.  He plants trees and flowers, he dresses his vines, he grafts into his olive branch, he scatters seed, waters, prunes, and harvests; and I can do the same.  It was by meditating on the above scripture that I began to see more clearly how He lovingly grafts His word into the stumps of our hearts, much like a gardener would graft the sapling of his favorite apple cultivar into a ready stump.  Gardeners have long realized that the seeds of a given apple are not guaranteed to produce the same apple tree.  The seed of a Fuji apple can no more produce a Fuji apple tree than a godly mother can produce a godly child without the intervention of the Holy Spirit.  God has no granchildren, therefore, we are dependent on the wise gardener to infuse or engraft in our hearts the life of His Son, at which point we can either exalt our own potential to bear fruit, or can meekly accept this new sapling which guarantees abundant fruit.

Grafting, however, like pruning, is not painless.  There is cutting involved, and this is where the plant may begin to question the will of the gardener.  It was this grafting analogy that Joni Eareckson Tada returned to time and again when she wondered how a simple prayer for God to change her life and remove complacency far from her could be answered with paralysis from the shoulders down.  The God I Love A Memoir  by Joni helps to answer these questions that so many of us have about why life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect.  I am not one who usually flocks to memoirs, but Joni’s book is an exhilirating read from the outset.  Born into an adventurous family, with a daring father and mother, Joni’s life was filled with excitement, drama, and lots of love.  I have never read a book more descriptive or that had more feeling, and this from a woman who can no longer feel.  The book is not just Joni’s story, however, it is God’s story.  The title of the book says it all.  A passage I especially love sums up the way God infused every facet of her life. 

“All of it whispered about God.  Just the way the harvest moon, every year on time, crested the eastern horizon at the same minute the sun sank in the west.  Or how a breeze left a silvery trace through the undersides of the leaves.  Or the strange light and life in a horse’s eye.  A heart can’t help but recognize a message that keeps insisting, ‘I am here…you are not alone…the world is even bigger than what you see.'”

Joni’s story leaves you breathless, whether it is playing cowboys and indians on horseback with her sisters, camping at Rehoboth beach and listening to her father’s ghostly tales of the Flying Dutchman, her paralysis after diving that fateful day, making a movie about her life, or starting a ministry that still touches millions of hearts around the world.  You begin to see with Joni that her wheelchair has become her “passport to adventure” and even a means to give glory to God.  Joni is frank about her struggles and questions, her wrestling with how God chose to answer her prayer, and early fears about the future.  It is clear that this brave woman has meekly accepted the cuts of the gardener, and in the end has a life that has born more fruit than she could ever have imagined producing on two good legs and with two strong arms.  If you are struggling with suffering, this book is not a deterrent to faith, but rather a means to hope, perseverance, and thankfulness for the cross.  Joni makes no objection to the fact that the same God who formed the universe out of nothing is the same one who has allowed her to remain in a wheelchair so many years; but she can now look at her life as a beautiful tapestry grown and cultivated by the Master Gardener and say indeed “It is good”.  This is indeed “the God I love”.

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Several years ago, I attended a church service with a DF.  It was more or less a traditional service, but the pastor enjoyed embellishing his sermons quite a bit, much to the chagrine of my friend.  This particular sermon had added dialogue between the would-be apostles on one of their historic fishing trips.  Although I can’t remember exactly, it may have sounded something like this, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.  I mean, I know what the Lord said to do, but I’m really not cut out for this preaching thing.  I am a fisherman, that’s what I know.’  They said to him, ‘We will go with you.  It’s not worth getting put out of the synagogues or beheaded like John the Baptist.  It’s a lot safer to stay in our little boat and mind our own business.”  John 21:3, emphasis mine.  Although, my DF was right to be concerned about “adding to scripture”, what I believe her pastor was doing was more along the lines of making “midrash”.  Midrash, according to Judith Kunst, author of The Burning Word  is “an ancient approach to scripture interpretation that employs imaginative tools such as story, metaphor, arguments, and wordplay to search out hidden meaning in Bible texts.”  “What could be the benefit of this?” You may ask.  I mean, we have been taught that our approach to scripture should not deviate from “precept on precept, line upon line”.   As I have plodded through this material, I have, like Ms. Kunst, decided that there is much insight and growth to be had, by learning how to read the scriptures the way those who have written it, and who have studied it the longest do.  Though many of Ms. Kunst personal stories are esoteric and many of her “practices” obscure and less than meaningful, I did appreciate the way she opened up the mysterious world of midrash and made it, not only appealing, but attainable.  Here are just a few gems about midrash I have gleaned from this book: 

First, every word of God is important.  The jewish scholars believe that no “the”, “and” or “but” is there by accident, and should be reverenced and regarded as holy. 

Second, questioning and arguing are a means to intimacy.  They should be encouraged in the way we approach scripture, and the way we teach our children to approach their own learning.  Not in a disrespectful way, but we should encourage their questions because this encourages intimacy and reinforces learning.  If you have ever participated in a Passover Seder, you will remember that it centers around the questions of the youngest child. 

Third, reading and responding to midrash is a way to stay connected to a dialogue that has been going on for centuries.  You may not always agree, but as you begin reading and arguing along with these ancient sages, you’ll find yourself growing in the knowledge of the scriptures.  “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is contained therein.”  Rabbi Ben Bag Bag, Talmud, Pirkei Avot. 

Lastly, God is hidden in His word.  He is contained in every word, verse, or story.  A good starting point in study is to ask yourself, “Where is God in this passage?”  “What is He communicating to me?”

This artful approach to scripture can strip off the subterfuge of what might be a seemingly innocent fishing trip,  and reveal the real motives and purpose behind it, which was in this particular case–rebellion.  I sang opera for a time in college, and in performing an aria by itself, and separated from the opera it is normally a part of, we had need of “subtext”.  Subtext are those unspoken words between the lines, that nobody hears, but are an integral part of communicating the piece.  They determine the mood, actions, length of silence, and timbre of every note.  They are important, because they determine the meaning of the words that are sung.  In scripture interpretation, the subtext might be called context; Jewish scholars would say that what is not said is just as important as what is said, and in fact, God may have omitted them for the purpose of our enjoyment and creativity of His word.  Going fishing, we might argue, was not the same as it is today.  It was not a relaxing hobby, but was the livelihood of these men.  Jesus had just appeared to them and commissioned them.  He had breathed the Holy Spirit into them.  This is the context for the fishing trip, and one can conclude that it was rebellion, and dialogue may or may not help you come to this conclusion. 

Although I don’t recommend The Burning Word as Bible Study material, it is a good introduction to midrash for Christians and contains many resources for those who would like to study more on this subject.  I can’t wait to get started, uh, just as soon as I get back from fishing.

 

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darkside.jpgJanan lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, her heart reciting the prayer she had prayed many times since her childhood, “Oh God, please don’t have an only begotten son.  I pray you don’t.”  Although completely rejected by her family because of her marriage to an “infidel”, she still clung tightly to the faith of her parents and upheld the Qur’an as God’s last word to humankind.  Now after nearly 8 years of marriage and two children with a Christian man, she had heard the gospel enough from her in-laws to begin to question her former beliefs.  One of those beliefs was that God could never have an “only begotten Son”.  To us as Christians, this may seem strange–that is until you understand Muslim thought and why the idea of God being a father is not only foreign but abhorrent to their way of thinking.  It may even surprise Christians wanting to speak rationally with Muslims about their faith, that what to them is happy, jubilant news (the father heart of God and the giving of His son) is horrible news to a Muslim.  At least, this is how it is explained by Abdul Saleeb, who along with R.C. Sproul, co-authored the book The Dark Side of Islam.  As Saleeb explains it, Muslims attribute the act of begetting a son to man’s animal nature and physical needs of which Allah has none.  “To talk about God as our father,” says Saleeb “implies sexual relations, and attributes something that is not right to God.”  To quote the Qur’an “It is not befitting (to the majesty of) Allah that he should beget a son” (Sura 19:35).  Also, “How can He hath a son when He hath no consort?”  (Sura 6:101).  Of course, Saleeb and Sproul both agree that orthodox Christianity repudiates any kind of base physical propagation by God.  “When Christ is called the Son of God,” says Sproul “He is called the monogenesis–the only begotten of the Father.  The church understood very early that this did not mean He had a beginning in time.  There wasn’t any idea of the Father’s procreating or siring a son.”  He goes on to explain that the Bible speaks of son-ship “as a description of a relationship of obedience” as well as a blood relationship.  But how do we as Christians articulate our beliefs and do we adequately understand our own theology enough to explain this to Christianity’s dissenters?  These two men do a wonderful job at tackling this problem.  The book not only helps us understand the teachings of Islam and Muslim thought better, but it is a book on the core doctrines of the Christian church.  The doctrine of the Trinity, sin, and salvation are compared and contrasted with the Muslim understanding and beliefs about each.  Much emphasis is put on the Christian’s ability to understand and explain their own faith, and a sharp contrast is drawn between so-called Christian scholars who have rejected this sound doctrine and true orthodox Christianity.  Many Muslim scholars have pointed out the disagreement within Christendom and used it as an excuse to condemn our scripture, they might say, “your own Western scholars are saying the same things that we have been saying.” while Sproul says that many of these so-called theologians, like those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity, would have been condemned as heretics and not even considered Christian by the early church.

I believe this book to be extremely important in light of the times in which we live.  Everyone of us will be affected in one way or another by the teachings of the Qur’an.  Some colleges are requiring its reading upon entrance to school and making “Muslim Awareness Days” a part of their academic year.  Public school students are being forced to study this faith while they are told that the faith of their own country’s fathers has no place in the classroom.  Politicians are swearing on the Qur’an rather than the Bible, Senators have said “Amen” to an Imam’s prayer that all people should convert to the “true” faith; and least we forget, we are in a war against terror that has been unleashed all over the world by “radical” Islam. 

Abdul Saleeb, like my friend Janan, was reared in the Muslim faith and in a Muslim country.  We have much to learn from these converts and need to uphold them in prayer for the sacrifices they have made in serving Christ, as well as for their unique qualifications to bring the gospel to their native lands and people.  Reading this book gave me an even greater desire to see Muslim people hear the truth and reminded me that they are not outside of God’s redemptive plan.  He is calling many out of darkness everyday.  Janan’s belief was that Jesus was a great prophet of Allah.  She even believed in His second coming to earth; however, as a vindicator of Mohammed’s teaching.  He would come back, she believed, to set the world straight that he is not the “Son of God”, and that Christians have been misled by their defiled scriptures.  Now this happy, Jesus worshipping, and Jew-loving Palestinian longs for the day of His returning as the conquering King.  She sees Him as her God, Redeemer, and friend.   If she has any hesitation in his imminent return, it is only because she knows that her loved ones are in darkness; but even for them she has not given up hope. She sees God as her loving, heavenly Father and speaks intimately of the way He drew her to himself.  He will draw her parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, sisters, in kind.  That is her prayer now, that the only begotten Son of God would rule and reign in their hearts the way he does in her own, translating them out of darkness and into the kingdom of His marvelous light. 

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My DH recently broke his leg.  He wasn’t doing anything exciting or brave:  no handgliding, no climbing 40 foot trees to retrieve our cat, no cleaning out the gutters (which I’m told is a very dangerous job), and not even riding a horse.  He was merely carrying a rather heavy load through the basement, when he turned his foot completely sideways, and the entire weight of his body was forced on top of his fibula, and well, it couldn’t hold it.  It’s been a week since the surgery and I’m still looking for an appropriate nickname.  Gimpy, Festus, Darth Vader (because of the screws and metal plate) have all been thrown out there; but I just can’t seem to find one I really like.  I am now entertaining ideas.  Aside from the blessing of being able to tease him relentlessly, I have found other, more hidden silver linings in the midst of this difficult time.  I now have several roles.  Along with my usual roles of overseer of homework, mediator of arguments, sidestepper of laundry, etc., I have now been given a few new titles:  assistant appraiser (his official job), pillow bearer, late at night water retriever, garage door closer (the automatic one decided to go on the blink along with his leg), and dishwasher.  I am now the one who feeds our pit bull mix, assigns him his boundary lines and tells him, “you can come no further”.  I’m also the one who takes out the trash, the recyclables, gets the paper, and generally transports anything that cannot fit in a hand along with a crutch handle.  It seemed designed that I should, in the midst of this chaos, arrive at the last chapter of my latest traverse into the world of marriage books called When Sinners Say “I Do”.  The book has suddenly become an anchor for me during this time of caring for my husband, but more about that later.  Dave Harvey’s book on marriage is for everyone, thus the appropriate description–“sinners”.  I had one friend that literally thought this was a book written for recovering alcoholics or drug abusers, to try to help them navigate marriage apart from the gospel.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The book’s surmise is that we are all sinners; and that God knew this when he chose us to represent the relationship between His son Jesus and his bride, the church.  Therefore, the Bible has much to say to us as married sinners, and this should give us hope for our marriages, no matter what they look like or what different situations we might be in.  The chapter I mentioned before is called “When Sinners Say Goodbye” and is all about how we are preparing each other for eternity, and that we are “caring for clay”.  I like this terminology, because it speaks to our finiteness, our outward decay, and our frailty as human beings.  We are not married to someone who is going to be as good looking as the day we walked down the aisle, or who will necessarily be able to run a marathon in their 80’s, or let alone serve us with the same strength and vigor that they had in their youth.  We are all outwardly decaying and very soon, we will die.  Our lives are indeed like a “vapor”.  Reading this chapter made me evaluate my marriage.  I looked back at the selfishness with which I stood at the altar and said my vows.  It was all about “me” back then–how could my needs be best met, what would make me happy.  Over the years I’ve realized that this is not the reason God has called me to marriage.  He has called me and all of us to reflect a bigger picture; to show off His big universal plan of redemption.  This is not my goal everyday, it’s true; but as I look over at my husband with his huge bandage on his leg, and his inability to give me any kind of physical help, I realize that my love for him transcends all these minor afflictions, and in loving this way (sacrificially), I am hopefully mirroring what Christ displayed on the cross.  So, no matter what condition my husband is in, I will stand beside him and help him and encourage him the best I can, because I want to see him all the way to the end.  That’s my job, and by God’s grace, it is my joy.  I’m not going to give up on him and go find some man with two perfect legs.  I love him and together, we’re preparing each other for eternity.Harvey definitely ended with a bang, but the other chapters have just as much impact.  When Sinners Say “I Do” is in a nutshell like a zip drive.  It unpacks, among other texts, Luke 6:42 which reminds us to “take the log out of our own eye” so we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.  Mr. Harvey says that Jesus’s point was about our focus.  Whose sin are we most concerned about, our own, or our spouse’s? Can you imagine the God-glorifying marriages that would result if husbands and wives were more conscious of their own sins than that of their spouse?  This, unfortunately, is  the opposite of what you see in most marriages.  This book is about more than this: it is about mercy triumphing over judgement, forbearance, forgiveness, “stubborn grace”and hope in the midst of hopelessness.  It is chocked full of personal stories and great analogies.  Dave Harvey can talk to us about being the “worst of sinners” because he has applied it in his own life and really believes it.  He is convinced that the truth of the gospel, “God sent His son into the world to save sinners, of who I am the chief” really will transform our marriages and change the way we look at our spouses.  Husbands and wives will both benefit from this well thought out, sometimes funny, but completely serious look at marriage through the lens of scripture.  The log and the speck analogy definitely had an affect on me.  Now every time my husband asks for a glass of water at three-o’clock in the morning, I won’t be tempted to break his other leg.

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I’m a cut to the chase kind of gal.  I don’t like it when people beat around the bush to make a point whether they’re explaining why they were 30 minutes late for a meeting or why they burned the popcorn.  It’s enough for me simply to know that there was “traffic” or that they “incorrectly set the timer on the microwave”.  I don’t need to know that they were distracted by a phone call in the middle of programming the microwave and then their daughter came to tell them their neighbor was being arrested on TV, etc.  This is probably the reason that I have never gotten into reading books on theology.  Let me explain.  I have found in the ones I have read that the author is as much important as the subject matter; and a particular author may be a great theologian, a great preacher, but cannot write to save his life.  He will take a whole chapter to explain one thought, and I’m saying to myself, “Just spit it out, already”.  I have tried to labor through some of these treatise in an attempt to grow spiritually; but most of the time have been unable to finish due to the sheer drudgery of the task.  At times I would fancy myself as one of those 15th century monks that would buffet their bodies with leather straps, and feel my mental penance must be much more painful than any physical chastisement.  Anyway, while beating myself up with these grand expositions, I have been surprised to find other authors to not only be refreshing in their simplicity but motivating and entertaining as well.  Jerry Bridges is one of those authors.  Mr. Bridges is on staff with the collegiate ministry called The Navigators, and is author of various books that I love and have returned to again and again for reference:  Transforming Grace, Trusting God, and The Pursuit of Holiness to name a few.  My most recent acquisition, The Fruitful Life was not disappointing, and shows again why Mr. Bridges is at the top of my list of favorite Christian authors.  This is not just another book about the fruit of the spirit.  In this book, Mr. Bridges dispenses with the view of the “fruitful life” being merely a mark of a healthy Christian, but rather describes it as a pursuit in which the “right motive” is essential.  “Devotion to God” says Bridges, “is the only acceptable motive for actions that are pleasing to God.” For instance, it is not enough to excel at the fruit of “faithfulness” (always on time, always truthful, always dependable) if the reasons for this pursuit is self-righteousness.  A desire for God’s glory through His character being displayed in our lives, as well as a sincere devotion and love for God through our desire to obey His mandate to “bear much fruit” should lie at the heart of any and all spiritual pursuits.  This book is definitely instructive and corrective, but so you won’t think that condemnation will be the end result, Mr. Bridges is very clear that the “fruitful life” is both grace motivated and grace driven. 

Mr. Bridges includes “humility” in his list of “fruits” because, as he says “without humility, we cannot hope to cultivate the rest of the fruit”.  His own humility is clear as you read. In every chapter he shares his failures in attempting to follow God in this area.  As we see his failures, however, we see many successes as God has brought him to repentance in showing him his faults and need for grace.  I think I was most affected by his chapter on “Gentleness”, as Bridges points out, “who of us ever prays for the grace of gentleness”.  It is, however, a fruit of God’s work in our lives, and evident in the life of Jesus and the Apostles whom we are supposed to emulate.  This book is definitely food (the fruity) kind for much thought for years to come, and will be put at the top of my spiritual reference files. 

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