Saturday, August 17, 2019

Book Review: Remember Death--The Surprising Path to Living Hope

According to author Matthew McCullough, we’re a culture in denial of death. We’ve removed death from our doorstep. People now die in hospitals rather than at home. We see ourselves as indispensable. And we avoid talking about the subject of death.

McCullough traces the origin of death from the Garden of Eden where the serpent taunts Eve: “You will not surely die (if you eat the fruit of the forbidden tree).” He lied. She ate, and so we all die. But that story leads to the New Testament story of Christ, who died so that we may have life eternal. “Death is a punishment perfectly fitted to the offense,” McCullough writes. But the gospel redeems and destroys death by offering life eternal.

We need to recognize foreshadows of death in the world around us. Like Ecclesiastes reads, everything has a season—work, pleasure, wealth. Ecclesiastes sets the scene for Jesus: “It sets the context in which the resurrection of Jesus makes sense. It prepares us to see why everything is vain if Jesus is not alive.

If we recognize the shadow of death around us, we appreciate the promise of a deathless world. We live in a stage of impermanence. In time everything changes, nothing lasts—meals, books, shows. All temporary. Time devours. But that need not spoil our appreciation of the good things of life. The best is yet to come.

McCullough writes: “Embracing death-awareness is how we strip away a heart-breaking attachment to the things of this world.” It’s just like love. Some might say that it’s better not to love because your heart may be broken. We miss out so much with such an attitude.

Consider everything in this world as an appetizer and see problems as momentary in light of eternity. That puts death in perspective.

The book ends with an index and a scripture index. I appreciated the author’s perspective. I keep putting off things I could do to better prepare for death because I really don’t want to think about it. But McCullough is right. The death rate is 100 percent, so we better be ready. A thoughtful read.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book Review: Stepping Heavenward

Reading this novel is like seeing a video timeline of a Christian woman’s life, showing her development from youth to maturity. Written as a dated journal, you will relate to Katherine’s emotional ups and downs—her youthful petulance, her heartbreak over a broken engagement, her peevishness with her husband, her crankiness with her children, her struggles with health and her disappointment at her own lack of Christian maturity.

In her journal, Katherine shares her private thoughts. With honesty and humor, she exposes the complexity of human nature as she struggles to grow in faith.

Set in the 1800s, Katherine garners advice as she travels the path of life. When she complains about difficult people in her life, a friend advises God has two reasons for allowing it: “One would be the good they might do me. The other the good I might do them.” The book is chockful of such food for thought.

Forced to take in her husband’s relatives, Katherine struggles with the burden it places on her household. Over a sick child, she ponders turning her daughter over to the Lord: “Could I refuse Him my child because she was the very apple of my eye? Nay then, but let me give to Him, not what I value least, but what I prize and delight in most. Could I not endure heart-sickness for Him who had given His only Son for me!”

As you turn the pages, you watch a mature woman’s feelings settle as love to Christ becomes her guiding principle. As her home becomes more peaceful, she muses: “Is the change all in Ernest? Is it not possible that I have grown more reasonable, less childish and aggravating?”

Author Elizabeth Prentiss includes includes a discussion guide for personal reflection or to share with a group.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book because Katherine so openly and honestly reflected the thoughts and feelings that mark our days as we strive to grow in Christ through every age and stage of life.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Which Coupon Gets You Into Heaven?

To redeem a $5 coupon at a dollar store, I needed to spend $25, so my husband and I stopped by to pick up a few things. Since dollar store items are cheap, we kept adding to the cart—shampoo, vitamins, and at the last minute I threw in a box of blueberry waffles to make sure I spent $25.

As we headed to the checkout, I reached for my coupon. It wasn’t in the compartment of my purse where I put it. I rooted through every section of my purse. No coupon. I looked in our car. No coupon.

I finally gave up on finding my precious coupon, and we checked out with a total of $37 worth of merchandise. My coupon did me no good.

Hungry for Heaven?

My experience with my coupon reminds me of the “coupons” we may think we need to cash in to get to heaven.

Perhaps we think that if we are “good enough” we will earn a coupon for heaven. But what is “good enough”? Have you ever tried to live the perfect life for a day? You are sure to have a wrong thought or grumble at your husband.
Perhaps we think that if we serve God enough, we will get a coupon for heaven. But how much must we serve? Does it count if I hand out juice at vacation Bible school? If I host a neighborhood Bible study? Work as a pastor? Teach Sunday school? How much service is enough?
Perhaps we think that if we pray enough, we will get a coupon for heaven. But how long must we pray. Five minutes? Thirty-five minutes? An hour a day? Five hours? How much prayer is enough?
Perhaps if we serve our fellow man, we will get a coupon for heaven. Does it count if we buy a meal for a homeless person? Serve in the Peace Corps? Visit a nursing home? What must we do to earn a coupon for serving our fellow man?

            You get the idea. We can never:

  • be good enough
  • pray enough
  • or serve enough.

  • Good works follow salvation, but they don’t provide salvation. If they did, Christ’s death was unnecessary.

    Hope for Heaven:
    So is there no hope for us to get to heaven? Fortunately, there is. Christ lived a perfect life, a life that is good enough. And by dying on the cross, He paid the price, the sacrifice, required by a righteous God to pay for our sin. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
    You see, God is so holy, so perfect, that only perfection may come into His Presence. We simply don’t qualify in ourselves. But when we receive/believe/accept (whatever word you want to use) Christ as our Savior, it is as though He wraps us in His own white robe of righteousness. Although we are still sinful people, we then appear sinless and perfect before God.
    That is salvation. That is the gift for which we need no coupon. We need only Christ.
    Headed for Heaven:

    If you’ve never embraced Christ as your Savior, just pray this prayer today:
    Dear Lord, I know I’ve done wrong things in my life, and I’m sorry. (Feel free to tell Him the things you remember.) I believe Christ died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for my sins. I invite Him to be Lord of my life, and I look forward to doing good works for Him throughout this life and walking with Him right into eternity. In His Name I pray. Amen.

    “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story . . . . “ Psalm 107:2
    You are now a new person in Christ. Write this date in your Bible. Know that on this date you passed from certain death and separation from God into life eternal. And tell someone of the step you’ve taken. Feel free to leave a note on this message to celebrate your salvation. And may God bless you for taking this step of faith.

    Feel free to share this post if you think it might help someone seeking better to know God.

    Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

    Wednesday, July 17, 2019

    Book Review: The Soul of Shame - Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves

                We walk into the present dragging our past behind us. And the shame we’ve experienced in the past weighs us down and prevents us from enjoying life. Author Curt Thompson is a psychiatrist who peppers his writing with stories of patients wounded by shame.

                According to Thompson, shame often enters our lives through criticism from a parent, a coach or unkind remarks from a peer. As feelings of shame develop, they disrupt the way the mind works. And as we dwell on the shame, patterns of thinking become entrenched. We remember emotional events, and the more we do, the more we become what we remember—shame-filled.

                Through biblical narrative, Thompson explores shame beginning with Adam and Eve, who in original creation were naked and not ashamed. But then sin entered the world and disrupted paradise.

                As humans, we tend to bury painful memories and that exacerbates the problem. Thompson quotes C. S. Lewis as saying: “I sometimes think that shame . . . does as much toward preventing good acts and . . . happiness as any of our vices do.”

                Since hiding is a natural response to shame, Thompson urges vulnerability and openness in sharing with a trusted confidant. We need to be reminded to listen to God’s voice, telling us we are loved and He is pleased with us, rather than a voice from the past that has insulted our humanity. The support of community is important in overcoming shame, reminding you of who you are.

                Thompson looks at how environments might contribute to feelings of shame. For instance, we may hide our feelings in the family of God for fear of being shamed, not feeling good enough. Educational endeavors may lead to feelings of shame if learners are praised only for outcome rather than for effort.

                This is a thoughtful read, published in 2015 by IVP Press I would have liked more about how to combat feelings of shame, but Thompson leaves it in generalities. The book includes discussion questions, so it would be a great study for small groups. He also includes notes and a bibliography.

                I liked the way he wove real-life stories into the chapters. They add color and break up the scholarly tone of the book. A good read.

    Friday, July 12, 2019

    Why Read About Frogs and Fussy Old Prophets?

    Dear Friends:

                Many people consider the Old Testament irrelevant. What can we gain by reading about gory battles, plagues of frogs and problems the Israelites faced in the wilderness? What does Gideon’s fleece have to do with people who make decisions according to what they hear on social media?

                I am here to tell you . . . plenty! We might start by considering why we read the Bible in the first place. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. Scripture offers information we need to understand God. And He can only be understood if we start reading in Genesis.

                There we have the first hint of the Person of God, the Trinity. God says “Let us make man in our image.”

    There we find the Promise of God for a Savior to deal with the seed of sin sown by Eve and Adam (Genesis 3:15).

                In Genesis we learn of God’s Presence with us in all circumstances, as Hagar in her distress calls Him “the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

                In the Old Testament we see God’s Plan unfolding as he provides a redeemer for Ruth, as he offers Protection to the Jews through Esther’s intervention with the king.

                Through Psalms and the prayers of Old Testament saints we learn to Praise our God.

                The prophets tell us of God’s Patience with his people as He calls them again and again to repentance.

                The amazing thing about scripture is that although it was written by many people over a 2000-year period, the message is consistent. There is a God. He is active in our world, and He cares about us as individuals. He loves us so much He sent His Son to die on the cross to take the punishment we deserve for our sins.

                The Old Testament gives us God’s law, and while there are many who say that’s irrelevant, I disagree. The law shows us God’s values. And while we no longer are judged by the law, it points us to right and wrong.

                The Old Testament shows us the reality of sin in our lives. David, a man after God’s own heart, sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband (2 Samuel 11). Elijah despaired so that he wanted to die, in spite of the fact that God had just done a major miracle through him (1 Kings 19:4). Such examples offer hope that we, too, may be restored after our failures.

                The Old Testament shows us the attributes of God. We learn of His omnipotence as He parted the Red Sea and sent plagues upon Egypt. He learn of His compassion as He provided for a widow through Elisha. We learn of His love for His people, the people of Israel, and how His heart grieves for them when they push Him away. And we also learn of the consequences of sin, the heartache it causes God.

                Recently I read a devotional in Our Daily Bread by Elisa Morgan, who mentioned a children’s book titled: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. I like that. It reminds me that the thread of salvation through Christ that began in Genesis is echoed through the history, the poetry and the messages of the prophets that we read in the Old Testament. It’s true. Every story whispers his name.

                So find a readable translation. (Right now I’m using the Contemporary English Version with notes by Don Wilkerson.) Dig in. Spend 15 minutes a day reading, and you’ll read through the Bible in a year. It won’t be long until you too will be a fan of the Old Testament.