Tag Archives: FIRST Wild Card Tour

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Reasons For Hope by Carl Kerby

10 Feb

Amy’s note:  I started to read this book, but then my dog died (as I’ve shared), so I didn’t finish it.  Therefore, I cannot offer a fair review. 

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Genesis Publishing Group (November 22, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings – The B&B Media Group – for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Carl Kerby is president and founder of Reasons for Hope (rforh.com), founded in 2011 as a response to a calling from God to proclaim the authority and authenticity of the Bible. He was previously a founding board member at Answers in Genesis for ten years and served there for over fifteen years. Before that he worked as an air-traffic controller at O’Hare International Airport. Kerby’s love for Jesus fuels a passion to engage the minds and hearts of youth and adults so that they can know the truth of God’s Word. He is a sought-after speaker both in the United States and abroad. Yet his most cherished accomplishment is his 29-year marriage to his wife, Masami, and his roles as father to his children, Alisa and Carl, Jr., and as grandfather to Trey.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Life is not always picture-perfect, and sometimes it is difficult to see God’s plan or purpose—especially during difficult times. Reasons for Hope: In the Mosaic of Your Life, by sought-after speaker Carl Kerby, researches the many aspects of faith that will encourage everyone looking for hope in today’s troubling times. With humor and passion, Carl answers questions about suffering, evolution, relativism, faith and more, strengthening his readers and equipping them to offer true hope to a broken world.

“In a mosaic, the artist arranges pieces of cut or broken stones or tiles to create a decorative pattern. We may struggle to grasp the overall design of a mosaic when we’re looking at the individual pieces up close, because what we see looks like a piece of junk, broken and useless. But when we step back far enough to view the entire mosaic, we get a new perspective, and we see the intricate beauty of the finished masterpiece. That enables us to grasp the original intent of the artist,” explains Carl Kerby. Reasons for Hope chronicles Carl’s rocky start as the son of a professional wrestler and takes readers from his difficult teen years and his military career to his stressful responsibility as an air-traffic controller at one of the nation’s busiest airports and ultimately to his ministry calling as a speaker. Carl reveals how God has created a beautiful mosaic from the broken pieces of his life, held together by the saving grace of the cross of Jesus Christ. As readers join in Carl’s journey, they will come to understand how the bigger picture of their own lives reveals a unique and beautiful mosaic.

Using his dynamic and infectious passion, Carl reveals God’s hand throughout his life, from childhood to adulthood, from unbelief to belief. No matter what the circumstances, God gathers up the broken pieces of life and forms them into something beautiful, all according to His purpose and plan. Carl’s story will not only give reasons for hope but will also encourage readers to share their only true hope, Jesus Christ. Readers will walk away knowing that the broken pieces of their lives are used by God to make beautiful and useful vessels for His work

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 240 pages

Publisher: Genesis Publishing Group (November 22, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1933591099

ISBN-13: 978-1933591094

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Rocks,
Stones, Boulders and Mosaics
Craig DeMartino had no clue that his
life would change forever when he set out for Colorado’s Rocky Mountains on
July 21, 2002. A rock climber, Craig was doing what he loved best as he scaled
the heights of the Sundance Buttress in Rocky Mountain National Park. Little
did he know that the harrowing climb would be the last time he would plant both
feet on a mountain.
After a tragic instant of miscommunication,
Craig tum bled off the rocky cliff and plummeted nine stories to an almost
certain death. Freefalling at over sixty miles per hour, he crashed onto the
mountain floor—feet first. His boots exploded upon impact, and his feet and
ankles were shattered. A powerful shockwave moved up his body, breaking his
back and fracturing his neck. The fall also punctured a lung and tore a
shoulder. After being evacuated to the hospital, Craig remained unconscious as
the doctors advised his family that he had less than an hour to live.
But God had a different plan for
Craig. Through a series of miraculous events, Craig survived his
one-hundred-foot fall.
Although Craig didn’t conquer the
mountain by rock climbing, he did conquer the “rock” of difficulties that he faced
after the accident, including the amputation of his right leg eighteen months
later. Following his miraculous survival, and during his challenging recovery,
he discovered a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ, which led to a passion
for testifying of God’s wondrous power in his life. He’s even proven the
overcoming power of God by the strength and perseverance he exhibited when he
became the first amputee to climb the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite
on June 5, 2006, just six weeks shy of the four-year anniversary of the
accident.
No doubt, Craig’s fall from the cliff
was traumatic. But he recognized that his “rendezvous” with the rocks below was
not an unforeseen accident in God’s eyes, and that how he responded to his
predicament would change the entire course of his life.
“I think that’s how God works in our
lives—there are no accidents, only things that work for the good of the
kingdom,” Craig writes. “I think that’s the key to my attitude in general, that
I know God uses everything that happens to me to further the kingdom. That on
even the really bad days, and I have a lot of them, He is using the things I
do, and you do, to make an impact somewhere. Even when I don’t think that’s
happening, it is, and I usually see it down the road in ways I never could have
imagined.”
I believe God knew Craig would suffer
that fall, and He is the one who gave him the fortitude to survive the rocky
ordeal. Because of that experience, Craig now encourages others to live their
lives centered on Christ.
All of us, like Craig, face
challenges in our lives. How we deal with those challenges is what this book is
all about. Do we use the stones, rocks and boulders of life to build a strong
foundation or are we crushed by their weight?



As I look back over the years, I can
clearly see the stumbling stones and crushing rocks that were problems and
obstacles in my life. But I can also see how God used them for His plan and
purpose in my life—to build a foundation that has brought me to the place and
person I am today. I grew up with an extremely unusual background as the son of
a professional wrestler. Professional wrestling is a world that few know much
about, and I’ll be sharing the realities of that lifestyle, giving you a
glimpse of that world, in the following chapters. My path has been a rocky
one—struggling with a difficult childhood, dropping out of high school, even
being homeless at one point. Some of the “boulders” in my life were
disadvantages, but most of them were just difficult situations in which I made
very poor choices. But you know what? None of those boulders surprised God. In
fact, when I remember the negative experiences and failures from my past, I
cling to this passage of Scripture:
He also brought me up out of a
horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and
established my steps. (Psalm 40:2)
And that “rock” is Jesus. This verse
reminds me that I’m not the man that I used to be; God has created a new heart
and new mind within me. He lifted me out of the mess that I was in and placed
me on solid ground. My brothers and sisters in Christ, He’s done the same for
you!
THE BEAUTY OF MOSAICS
To me, a mosaic is such a fitting
illustration of the way God can take the broken pieces of our lives and create something
beautiful from them. My life has been filled with boulders and broken stones.
Yet God, in His grace, has put those stones together in a mosaic to make me
into a useful vessel for His use. I was privileged to serve for sixteen years
with the ministry Answers in Genesis (AiG), teaching people that God’s Word is
true from the very first verse. In January 2011, with the help of some great
friends, I founded a new ministry named Reasons for Hope, as a part of my
desire to equip Christians to offer reasons for their spiritual hope to lost
and dying people. That hope comes only from salvation through faith in Jesus
Christ. I never would have imagined how my life would turn out, but God, the
Grand Designer, has pieced together the good as well as the broken pieces of my
life into an amazing mosaic.
The term “mosaic” also has another
meaning. The “Mosaic Generation” describes the group of young people born
between 1984 and 2002. Sometimes called Millennials, Generation Y, Echo Boom,
or Generation Next, they are the newest of the five generations coexisting in
society today. The others are the Baby Busters/Generation X (born 1965–1983);
the Baby Boomers (1946–1964); the Builders (1927–1945); and the Seniors (1926
and prior; sometimes called Traditionalists or Matures).
Unfortunately, the meaning of
“mosaic” used for this emerging generation is far different from mine. Instead
of emphasizing how beauty can come from broken pieces, it seems they almost
embrace the brokenness as normal.
Maybe more than any other generation
today, those in the Mosaic Generation need to hear God’s truth. Let me share
with you some of the characteristics that are used to describe these Mosaics
(so-called because of their multifaceted, eclectic lifestyles). First, they’re
“plugged in” to all types of technology and media. According to author David
Kinnaman, Mosaics spend up to eight and a half hours every day using technology
and media, often using two or three types simultaneously (such as listening to
music while using the computer). In addition, Mosaics desire fresh, stimulating
experiences and love to express their individuality. Twenty-five percent of
Mosaics have posted personalized content online, including stories, videos,
blogs, artwork, or photos of themselves. More importantly, those in the Mosaic
Generation are nonlinear thinkers who are comfortable with contradiction and
are morally pragmatic (“I’ll do whatever works”).
For Mosaics, this philosophy of moral
pragmatism typically is expressed in the following statements:
What is right for you may not be right for
me.
I do what I think is best, not what anyone
else thinks is best.
You are the only one who can determine what
is right and what is wrong.
There is no absolute truth.
Hopefully, if you have a biblical background,
you can see immediately that these statements are at odds with Scripture. The
Bible is clear that all of us have God’s moral law (the Ten Commandments)
written on our hearts to tell us what is right and what is wrong and to convict
us of sin. The apostle Paul states in Romans 2:15 that men have “the work of
the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness…” The
Bible also tells us that God’s Word is absolutely true and is our standard for
living. The psalmist writes, “For the word of the LORD is right, and all His
work is done in truth” (Psalm 33:4), and “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a
light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Surprisingly, only 6 percent of Mosaic teens
who consider themselves to be “born again” have a biblical worldview (meaning that
they believe in absolute truth, that the Bible is God’s Word, that “Satan is
real,” “Jesus never sinned,” and a handful of similar orthodox beliefs). That
means the other 94 percent adhere in some way to a philosophy of moral
pragmatism. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do as far as sharing the gospel
with this generation.
However, the Mosaic Generation has
many positive qualities, too. Mosaics have a joyful and positive outlook on
life, and they long for personal connection and powerful experiences. They
consider religion and spirituality to be a positive dimension of life, and they
want to experience God’s truth by building authentic relationships with other
people who have faith in God. Most Mosaics agree with the statement that they
are “looking for a few good friends.” I would say that’s true for most everyone
in our culture today.
As we encounter those in the Mosaic
Generation, we can follow Paul’s approach in reaching the lost. He tells us in
1 Corinthians 9:22, “to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I
have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Paul
never compromised his message or watered down the truth of the gospel, but
boldly proclaimed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the
power of God to salvation for everyone who believes . . .” (Romans 1:16). He
was always faithful in proclaiming saving grace, so when Paul spoke of becoming
“all things to all men,” he was talking about trying to relate to the lost in
the best way he could in order to reach them with the gospel. He tried to
understand who they were, and be kind and courteous in his approach to witness
to them. For example, to those who are “weak” in the knowledge of the Lord and
the gospel, Paul “became as weak,” meaning he met them at their level of
knowledge and added to their understanding by proclaiming Christ to them. To
those who don’t believe in absolute truth, we can start by addressing their
current beliefs and then help them see their need for the One who is Truth.
That’s what I want to help you do in
this book: to help you become “all things to all men.” No matter which
generations you and I may be in, we need to speak the truth of the gospel in
love, be patient and understanding, and show people the need for Jesus Christ
and His Word. The gospel must always be the primary focus of our message, but
we can support our proclamation of the gospel with our personal testimony as
well. We can share with people how God has worked in our lives. By sharing our
testimonies we can often connect to others in a deeper way and help them to
come to an understanding of the reasons for hope found only in Jesus Christ.
READY TO SHARE
On my travels I often have the
opportunity to meet fascinating people who need the gospel. One of the most
memorable was a professor I met while speaking in Kentucky. He teaches global
warming at a university in England, and his sister (who is a Christian) had
invited him to come with her to hear me speak.
After my talk, he and I had a dynamic
discussion about the topics I had addressed, including the theory of global
warming. He disagreed with me on quite a few points, but I was open to his
ideas and questions. We had a good time dialoguing back and forth and challenging
each other to provide evidence for our positions.
One influential person I had
mentioned in my talk that day was Richard Dawkins, an anti-Christian activist
and one of the strongest proponents of the theory of evolution and the “New
Atheism” movement. I have never met Dawkins personally, but from what I have
seen in interviews, he is an angry man. He hates Christians, and he seems to
“have it out” for the Christian community and anyone who believes in God, creation,
or intelligent design. To give you an example, consider the titles of some of
the books Dawkins has penned:
The
God Delusion
The
Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution
Reveals a
Universe without Design
The
Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
Everything
You Know About God is Wrong: The
Disinformation Guide to Religion (contributor)
As I prepared to leave, this British
professor told me, “You know, you’re not what I expected!”
I laughed and said, “I could take
that a couple of ways. What do you mean?”
He told me, “I expected you to be
angry and want to argue with me because I don’t agree with you.”
“I don’t hate you because you don’t
think like I do,” I replied. “In fact, I spent many years believing the same
things that you do. But God doesn’t tell us to fight or argue. He just tells us
to be ready to share with others the reason for our hope. So that’s what I do!”
I continued, “When I see people
harboring so much anger and hatred toward others who are supposedly so ‘stupid’
and ‘uninformed,’ I just don’t understand it. Think about Richard Dawkins. Why
is he so angry? If he truly believes Christians are so stupid, he should feel
sorry for us. For example, if someone walked up to me and told me that he
believed the moon was made of green cheese, and he was totally sincere, would I
get angry and fight with him or call him names? No way. I’d pat him on the back
and say, ‘I love you, brother, but you may want to go get some help!’ The fact
that Richard Dawkins is so angry shows me that the Holy Spirit is working on
him. I’m praying for him. I still believe there is hope for him!”
I told the professor that I had
really enjoyed meeting him and discussing science and Scripture with him. We
shook hands and parted ways. I prayed that he would consider the truths I had
shared with him.
About three months later, I received
an email from this same professor. He said, “Carl, you won’t believe this, but
I trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior the Sunday after I met you!” but I was
thrilled to hear it.
His email continued: “You know what
else? What really got me was what you shared about Richard Dawkins. You didn’t
know this, but not long before I heard you speak, I had actually posted this on
my Facebook page: ‘Richard Dawkins is God.’ ”
I was blown away by this man’s
testimony. Only the living God can take someone from believing “Richard Dawkins
is God” to proclaiming “Jesus Christ is Lord”! This man’s Christian sister had
been witnessing to him and praying for him for years. I’m sure God heard her
prayers and prepared his heart to be receptive to the gospel that day.
I’m humbled and awed that God allows
you and me to play a small role in helping people like this man realize that
God’s Word is true and that it is our standard for living. The apostle Paul
wrote that we are to cast “down arguments and every high thing that exalts
itself against the knowledge of God,” and that we are to bring every thought captive
to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). God has the power and the will
to tear down any argument or speculation that opposes the truth of His Word. I
believe that’s what happened that day. The stumbling stones that had been in
place for years in this man’s life were removed when he simply heard the truth
spoken in love.
JOSHUA AND THE MEMORIAL STONES
The concept of mosaics really begins
to take shape as we consider the purpose of memorial stones in Scripture. The
Bible contains powerful examples of stone memorials that people built to help
them remember how God had worked in their lives.
Let’s start by focusing on the life
of Joshua. This biblical leader was my type of guy; he knew how to get things
done! Remember, as the Israelites anticipated entering the Promised



Land, Moses sent twelve men to spy on
the land of Canaan and report back with their findings (Numbers 13). Joshua was
one of those twelve men. Despite the fact that the cities were well fortified
and it seemed impossible for the Israelites to overcome the Canaanites, Joshua
and Caleb were ready to go for it. In Numbers 14 we read Joshua and Caleb’s
response: “If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and
give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against
the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their
protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”
Of the twelve men, Joshua and Caleb were the only two who maintained a faith
that God would lead them into the land He had promised. Based on the report of
the other ten, Israel did not enter the Promised Land and instead was consigned
to wander forty years in the wilderness until the nonbelieving generation had
passed away.
After the forty years of wandering,
Joshua assumed the leadership of the Israelites following Moses’ death, and led
them into the land. Joshua faced fierce battles, leadership struggles, and (of
course) plenty of grumbling and complaining from the Israelite people. But he
had earned the great privilege of leading God’s people into the Promised Land
and he remained faithful to God through it all.
One of my favorite Bible passages
contains the Lord’s powerful words to Joshua:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong
and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God
is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
During the time of Joshua’s
leadership, the Lord commanded His people to use stones to serve as memorials.
These memorials commemorated times when God performed miracles and showered
grace
upon His people even though they
didn’t
deserve it (which, after all, is the definition of grace!). In Joshua 4, God
told the Israelites that these memorials would serve as a sign to them and that
when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean to you?” they would
recount how God had miraculously provided. In a way, these assembled stones
were similar to mosaics, creating a picture to remind each generation of God’s
faithfulness and provision.
The Israelites enjoyed gathering
together to celebrate special feasts and festivals, just like we do at Easter,
Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But they didn’t celebrate just because it was fun.
God commanded them to build memorials so that they would never forget His mercy
and grace and to celebrate His goodness and faithfulness to them. He wanted the
Israelites to remember all the ways that He had worked in their lives in the
past.
I believe the same is true today. We
should use the “stones” of hardships in our lives as reminders of what God has
done for us, sharing them with the current generation so that they will be able
to share with future generations the “stones” from their lives.
Chapter 3 of the book of Joshua
records how God miraculously enabled His people to cross the Jordan River on
dry land. He wanted to build up the Israelites’ faith and courage to show them
that He would give them victory in battle over their enemies. Joshua said to
the Israelites:
“Come here, and hear the words of the
LORD your God. By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and
that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the
Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the
Amorites and the Jebusites: Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all
the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore, take for
yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. And
it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear
the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the
Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come
down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” (Joshua 3:9–13)
In the following verses, we discover
something surprising about the Jordan River: it is at flood stage all through
the harvest. Yet here’s what happened:
. . . as those who bore the ark came
to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge
of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of
harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose
in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters
that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut
off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. Then the priests who bore
the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of
the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had
crossed completely over the Jordan. (Joshua 3:15–17)
Does this ring a bell? It reminds me
of the time when God worked a miracle and enabled Moses to lead over two
million Israelites across the Red Sea on dry ground as they escaped from
slavery in Egypt. Now, God was showing His people that He was still in control
by performing a similar miracle under the leadership of Joshua. (By the way,
aren’t we glad that He’s still in control today?)
I love what happens next; now we’re
getting to the “memorial stones” section. As a reminder to the current and
future generations of what a great thing God had done for His people, God
commanded Joshua to build a memorial. Twelve men (one from each tribe) went to
the riverbed, and each removed one stone. They carried these stones to where
they camped on the western side of the Jordan and piled them up as a memorial.
In addition, God commanded Joshua to
build a second memorial—a pile of stones right in the middle of the Jordan
River! Joshua picked up stones and carried them to the place where the ark of
the covenant was still stationed and “set up twelve stones” in the midst of the
riverbed (Joshua 4:9). (Why would God tell Joshua to set stones in the middle
of the river, since they would quickly be covered when the water started to
flow again? See the sidebar for the amazing answer.)
The Jordan crossing was an amazing
miracle of God, a sign to His people that He was the One who led them into the
land. This miracle was to give them faith that He would also lead them into
battle against the Canaanites and that He would empower them to possess the
land (Joshua 3:9–13). The stone memorial on the riverbank testified to His
faithfulness and served as a reminder to them and future generations that only
God is their deliverer and their source of strength. The stones “cry out” the
message to every generation that God is steadfast in His promises to deliver
and bless His people.



Remember that throughout the Old
Testament, God provided signs to his people to reveal Himself, His plans, and
especially the promise of a coming Messiah. The book of Joshua begins with the
people preparing to enter the Promised Land, their God-given inheritance. They
are not led by Moses, who represents the Law, but by Joshua, an Old Testament
picture and foreshadow of our Savior, who is the only way to our inheritance.
We read in Joshua 3:17 that the ark
stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while the people passed
through untouched by the waters of the Jordan. Often in the Bible we see where
water serves as a symbol of the wrath or judgment of God: the Flood (Genesis
6:17; Hebrews 11:7); the Red Sea drowning of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:28;
Hebrews 11:29); Jonah going under the waters (Jonah 1; 2:3). Even the word
“Jordan” implies judgment. A. W. Pink breaks the word into two Hebrew roots: jor or yar, which is literally “spread,” and dan, which means “judging” (Genesis 30:6). Others define it as yar-dane, meaning “descender.” Baptism,
where the person is immersed in water and risen to new life by the power of
Christ, is also a picture of the old man being judged by God, dying to self,
and being saved by Christ. Jesus’ followers are commissioned to be “fishers of
men” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17), and the Psalms confirm our being taken out from
the waters:
He sent from above, He took me; He
drew me out of many waters. (Psalm 18:16)



Deliver me out of the mire, and let
me not sink; let me be delivered from those who hate me, and out of the deep
waters. Let not the floodwater overflow me, nor let the deep swallow me up; and
let not the pit shut its mouth on me. (Psalm 69:14,15)
“If it had not been the LORD who was
on our side,” let Israel now say—“If it had not been the LORD who was on our
side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive,
when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters would have overwhelmed
us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters would
have gone over our soul.” (Psalm 124:1–5)
“I will pour out My wrath on them
like water.” (Hosea 5:10)
In Joshua 4, God instructed the
twelve men (one from each tribe) to take a stone from the middle of the dry
riverbed to build a memorial on the west bank of the Jordan. These stones came
from the place that pictures death, the miry bottom of a riverbed. They had
been buried beneath the waters, the picture of wrath and judgment. The “ark of
the LORD,” which is a picture of Christ (in both construction and in being the
place where God dwelled among His people) stood in the midst of the Jordan,
allowing these stones to be brought up out of the waters (death) to create a
memorial of deliverance (redemption). Remember, this was done “that this may be
a sign among you . . .” (Joshua 4:6).
We read in Joshua 4:9 that it was
Joshua, not the twelve, who was told to “set up twelve stones in the midst of
the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the
covenant stood; and they are there to this day.” This is a picture of the
unredeemed, those who die in their sin, who are buried in death by the
righteous judgment of God—“and they are there to this day” (Joshua 4:9). What a
frightening thought and a reminder to all of us to be bold in sharing the
saving grace of the gospel.
The twelve stones taken out from the
Jordan depths and placed on dry ground “where they lodged” (Joshua 4:8)
symbolize those who were redeemed by Christ (the ark) and came out from under
the judgment of God (the waters) to new life in the Promised Land (inheritance of
life in Christ). And remember that the people crossed over the Jordan at the
time of Passover! This was at the “time of harvest” (Joshua 3:15), “on the
tenth day of the first month” (Joshua 4:19). This is a beautiful picture of the
saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The Joshua 4 memorial also reminds us
of a future promise given in Isaiah 43:2, where God says, “When you pass
through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not
overflow you.” Notice that promise says “when,” not “if.” We all know that in
this life trials will come our way, and we must always remember that He
promises to be with us, to deliver us, to set our feet on solid ground. Remember
the verse:
He also brought me up out of a
horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and
established my steps. (Psalm 40:2)

FIRST Wild Card Tour + Review: Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd

30 Jan

Amy’s Take: Beauty Will Save the World is about how the intrinsic message of the Gospel is beautiful.  Author Brian Zahnd says that the Jews in Jesus’ time expected a benevolent ruler who would overthrow Roman oppression, but instead they got a God-man who died on a tree (and rose again).  To the Jewish people, this seemed to be the opposite of victory, but the very definition of love—that God Himself would die a sinner’s death to redeem what was lost, to restore what is broken, to restore beauty.  It is this beauty that will save the world.

This book tickled the part of my brain that longs for intelligent, theological discourse.  However, at time Zahnd is repetitive using the same words and phrases to a fault. While I understand that he is urging readers to see the cross (which he refers to as the cruciform, which is the shape of the cross), I feel that he will lose readers in his cumbersome terminology.  This isn’t a book that can be simply read.  Sentences need to be digested, re-read, and understood because each line builds up Zahnd’s argument.

Admittedly, I have yet to finish the Beauty Will Save the World (not the easy nighttime read I thought it would be), but so far I have found the book to be biblically sound.  Reading this book is like digging for diamonds—it takes work, but in the end, you will find something precious and beautiful.

Read on, and find out if this book is for you!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Casa Creacion (January 3, 2012)

***Special thanks to Jon Wooten of Charisma House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I’m a full-time pastor, an erstwhile author, and a would-be mountaineer. I am the lead pastor of Word of Life Church in Saint Joseph, Missouri. I am the author of several books, most recently *Unconditional* and *What To Do On The Worst Day Of Your Life*

I became a Christian as a teenager through a dramatic encounter with Jesus during the height of the Jesus movement. Almost immediately I was holding Bible studies in High School, leading a coffeehouse ministry and preaching in whatever church was crazy enough to let a long-haired Jesus freak into the pulpit. Seven years after my life-changing encounter with Jesus I started Word of Life Church in a broken down Methodist church building. For the first seven years we struggled and remained small, but since that time God has allowed me to be a pastor to thousands. It never ceases to amaze me.

My great passion is for the King and His Kingdom. I’ve been led on my never-ending adventure of exploring the Kingdom of the Heavens by these five signpost words: Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution. I could talk for hours on these five words that revolve around Jesus, but this is supposed to be a short bio.

My wife Peri and I have done some pretty improbable things by daring to believe God. It has made our life an adventure—not always easy, but always an adventure…and in the end, always good.

We have three sons: Caleb, Aaron and Philip, and two daughter-in-laws, Ashlie and Sarah. They’re awesome.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In today’s world we have technology, convenience, security, and a measure of prosperity, but where is the beauty?

For thousands of years, artists, sages, philosophers, and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God. Now we live in a day when convenience and practicality have largely displaced beauty as a value. The church is no exception—even salvation is commonly viewed in a scientific and mechanistic manner and presented as a plan, system, or formula.

In Beauty Will Save the World, Brian Zahnd presents the argument that this loss of beauty as a principal value has been disastrous for Western culture—and especially for the church. The full message of the beauty of the gospel has been replaced by our desires to satisfy our material needs, to empirically prove our faith, and to establish political power in our world—the exact same things that Christ was tempted with—and rejected—in the wilderness.

Zahnd shows that by following the teachings of the Beatitudes, the church can become a viable alternative to current-day political, commercial, and religious power and can actually achieve what these powers promise to provide but fail to deliver. Using stories from the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and from his own life, he teaches us to stay on the journey to discover the kingdom of God in a fuller, richer—more beautiful—way.

Product Details:

  • List Price: $15.99
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Casa Creacion (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616385855
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616385859

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter 1: Form and Beauty: This is a book about beauty and Christianity—or perhaps about the beauty of Christianity. We are all attracted to beauty. We desire it, we admire it, we recognize it when we see it. We have an innate instinct for beauty, even if the definition of what beauty actually is can be a bit unwieldy. In an academic sense, beauty is generally

understood as a combination of color, shape, and form that we find aesthetically pleasing. That is a rather bland description of beauty, but even if the definition is inadequate, we do understand that beauty has a form. This is important. Whether it’s a painting or a poem or a sculpture or a song, beauty has a form. Form is central to beauty. Distortion of a beautiful form takes away from its beauty. Obviously it’s even possible for a beautiful thing to become so distorted and deformed that it loses most or all of its beauty. When this happens, it’s a kind of vandalism.

Think of a beautiful stained-glass window, an artistic combination of color, shape, and form. Imagine a stained-glass masterpiece in a great cathedral, perhaps depicting a scene

from the life of Jesus. Now try to imagine a vandal lobbing bricks through that window. The beautiful combination of color and form has been broken, and beauty has been lost. It is a tragedy, and we are saddened. What we hope for now is some kind of restoration—we hope that beauty can be recovered. We hope for this because one way of viewing life is as an ongoing struggle to create, preserve, and recover what is beautiful. This is why art is not merely a leisure pursuit but serious business, because, quite simply, life should be made as beautiful as possible.

But this is not a book about art appreciation. This is a book about Christianity and about making it beautiful. Christianity in its proper form is a transcendent beauty. The story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection is not only the greatest story ever told, but it’s also the most beautiful story ever told. Christianity as the ongoing expression of the Jesus story lived out in the lives of individuals and in the heart of society is a beauty that can

redeem the world. That is an almost outlandish statement, but I believe it!

Yet I also recognize that Christianity can be distorted. It can be twisted out of shape. It can lose its beautiful form. When this happens, Christianity is not only less than beautiful; it can at times be blatantly ugly. It has happened before. What I fear is that we are in danger of losing our perspective of what is most beautiful about Christianity and accidentally vandalizing our faith with the best of intentions. I fear the vandalism has already begun. This book is about what can be done and how Christianity can recover its form and beauty through a new kind of reformation.

Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda—The church reformed and always reforming.This Latin phrase was one of the mottoes of the Protestant Reformation—a reminder and an acknowledgment that for the church to remain true to its mission and witness and to retain its beauty, the church must constantly be reforming itself. Of course, semper reformanda doesn’t mean the church should mindlessly engage in change for the sake of faddish novelty or trendy innovation. That’s not what I’m talking about. Rather semper reformanda comes from the realization that there are forces—political, social, theological, spiritual, and so forth—that over time tend to twist the church and the gospel out of shape. As a result the church must continually seek to recover the true form and original beauty found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of reformation is an ongoing process.

There is indeed a sense in which the need for some measure of reformation is always present, but there are also times when the need for reformation (think re-formation) is more critical than others. There are times when the distortion of the church is severe enough that the integrity of our message is compromised. I’m convinced the evangelical church in the Western world is facing just such a crisis. Putting it as plainly as I can, evangelical Christianity needs to recover the form and beauty that are intrinsic to Christianity. We need a reformation because we are being twisted out of shape. Let me try to explain how this has happened.

The stories of evangelicalism and America are deeply intertwined in much the same way that the stories of Catholicism and the Roman Empire are intertwined. Evangelical Christianity came of age during America’s rise to superpower status on the world stage. America, untethered from European Christendom and their vassal state churches, provided an environment conducive for evangelical Christianity, and evangelical Christianity has flourished in the American environment. (By evangelical I mean the expression of Protestant Christianity characterized by a dual emphasis on the authority of Scripture and a personal conversion experience—this is evangelicalism at its best.) So far

so good. But there is always a particular temptation faced by the church when it is hosted by a superpower. The temptation is to accommodate itself to its host and to adopt (or even christen) the cultural assumptions of the superpower.

This is nothing new. The long history of the church bears witness to the reality and seductive power of this temptation. The historic problem the Greek Orthodox Church struggled with in the East sixteen hundred years ago was the temptation to be too conformed to the Byzantine Empire. At the same time, the historic problem the Roman Catholic Church struggled with in the West was the temptation to be too conformed

to the Roman Empire. And I dare to suggest (or even insist!) that the problem that is distorting American evangelicalism is that it has become far too accommodating to Americanism and the culture of a superpower. This is fairly obvious. You don’t have to be a sociologist to recognize that the American obsession with pragmatism, individualism, consumerism, materialism, and militarism that so characterizes contemporary America has come to shape (and thereby distort) the dominant form of evangelical Christianity found in North America. It becomes American culture with a Jesus fish bumper sticker. If we are unwilling to engage in critical thought, we will simply assume that this is Christianity, when in reality it is a kind of Christianity blended with many other things.

To be born in America is to be handed a certain script. We are largely unconscious of the script, but we are “scripted” by it nevertheless. The American script is part of our nurture

and education, and most of it happens without our knowing it. The dominant American script is that which idolizes success, achievement, acquisition, technology, and militarism. It is the script of a superpower. But this dominant script does not fit neatly with the alternative script we find in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So here is our challenge: when those who confess Christ find themselves living in the midst of an economic and military superpower, they are faced with the choice to either be an accommodating chaplain or a prophetic challenge. Over the last generation or so, evangelicalism has been

more adept at endorsing the dominant script than challenging it. And in conforming too closely to the dominant script of Americanism, the Christianity of the American church has become disfigured and distorted and is in desperate need of recovering its true form and original beauty through a process of re-formation. We need to bear the form and beauty of the Jesus way and not merely provide a Christianized version of our cultural assumptions.

In order to recover the true form and original beauty that is integral to Christianity, we need an ideal form, a true standard, an accurate template, a faithful model to which we can look, to which we must conform. For historic Christianity this has always been Jesus Christ upon the cross, which is a holy irony, since crucifixion was designed to be ghastly and hideous. But this is the mystery of the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which attains in retrospect an eternal glory and beauty through the resurrection, is the axis of Christianity around which everything else revolves. Thus the cruciform (the shape of a cross) is the eternal form that endows Christianity with its mysterious beauty. Simply put, the cross is the form that makes Christianity beautiful! The cross is the beauty of Christianity because it is at the cross that we encounter co-suffering love and costly forgiveness in its most beautiful form.

But the question is, can we see the beauty of the cruciform? In a culture that idolizes success, can we see beauty in the cross? In a culture that equates beauty with a “pretty

face,” can we see past the horror of a grisly execution and discern the sacred beauty beneath the surface? This is what artistic representations of the cruciform are capable of capturing and why their work is invaluable. The artist doesn’t give us a journalistic photograph of an event, but an artistic interpretation of an event. The great masters of sacred art were both artists and theologians; through their work they have given us an artistic interpretation that reveals the inherent, but hidden, beauty of the cross. Consider the cruciform and try to apprehend its beauty. The Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in the gesture of proffered embrace, refusing to call upon avenging angels but instead loving his enemies and praying for their forgiveness—this is the form and beauty of Christianity. The cruciform is the posture of love and forgiveness where retaliation is abandoned and outcomes are entrusted to the hands of God. The cross is laden with mystery. At first glance it looks like anything but success. It looks like failure. It looks like defeat. It looks like death. It is death. But it is also the power and wisdom of

God. This is mysterious. It is also beautiful. This is the mysterious beauty that saves the world.

The cruciform is the aesthetic of our gospel. It is the form that gives Christianity its unique beauty. It is what distinguishes Christianity from the dominant script of a superpower. But the beauty of the cruciform is a beauty communicated in a mystery. To those who value only conventional power and crass pragmatism—which is always the tendency of a superpower—the cruciform looks like folly, weakness, defeat, and death. It is not conventional beauty. But to those who have eyes to see, the cruciform shows forth a transcendent beauty—the beauty of love and forgiveness. It is the beauty of Christ’s

love and forgiveness as most clearly seen in the cruciform that is able to save us from our vicious pride and avaricious greed.

This is relevant to our situation because pride and greed are often pawned off as virtues in the culture of a superpower. Pride and greed are the engines of expansion, and as such they tend to be reworked as attributes. It was true in first-century Rome, and it’s true in twenty-first-century America. We’re told to “take pride in ourselves” and reminded that “we’re number one.” We sing about how proud we are to be Americans (even in church!). Plus there’s always someone new buying into Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy of self-interest and explaining to us with great passion how “greed is good.” But our Scriptures give a minority report; they tell us that pride and greed are the pliers that have distorted our humanity into a sinful ugliness. We must see the beauty of Christ in the cruciform and understand that it is only the beauty of self-sacrificing love that can

save us from pride and greed. This is the beauty Dostoevsky correctly and prophetically spoke of when he said, “Beauty will save the world.”

The church always faces the temptation to turn its gaze from the beauty of the cruciform and look instead to “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” The beauty of the cruciform is a subtle and hidden beauty, like the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa. The splendor of Babylon is brash, like the garish lights of Las Vegas. When we lose sight of the subtle beauty of the cruciform we become seduced by the power, prestige, and pragmatism of politics. To borrow Tolkien’s theme, we become seduced by the ring of power. The ring of power is the enemy of beauty. It was the ring of power—“my precious”—that transformed the humanlike Sméagol into the reptilian Gollum. In like manner, the church begins to devolve from beauty into a distorted form less beautiful the moment it reaches for the ring of power.

But we reach for the ring of power nevertheless. We find it almost irresistible. Of course we supply ourselves with copious reasons as to why our fascination with conventional power is a good thing: “We want to have power to do good.” “We want to make a difference in the world.” “We have to take a stand against evil.” But without realizing it, we are being subtly seduced into thinking there is a better way to go about achieving righteousness and justice (think beauty) than by taking up the cross and following Jesus. We begin to think that if we can just get Caesar on our side, if we can just get the emperor to hold a National Prayer Breakfast, we can then baptize the ways and means of the empire and at last accomplish “great things for God.” And here’s the thing: Caesar is

more than willing to employ the church as a chaplain, as long as the church will endorse (with a bit of religious flourish) the ways and means of the empire. Of course the ways and means of the empire are the ways and means of political and military domination. There’s no beauty in that. Politics is never pretty. Everyone knows that. Thus the church sacrifices the beauty of Christianity when it chooses the political form over the cruciform.

Reaching for the ring of power distorts our beauty.

But why would we do it? Why would we sacrifice the enchanting beauty of Christianity for the ugly machine of politics? Because political power is so—and there’s no other word for it—pragmatic. We’re convinced “it works.” What could be more simple? Here’s the formula. Just put good people in positions of power and good things will happen. (Such thinking is very close to the wilderness temptation Jesus faced; more on that later.) We are easily seduced by the clear logic of political pragmatism. But we need to remember that God does not save the world through the clear logic of political pragmatism (though Jesus was tempted by the devil, and even by his own disciples, to attempt it). Instead, God saves the world through the ironic and mysterious beauty of the cruciform. To achieve good through attaining political and military dominance has

always—always!—been the way of the fallen world. We seem to lack the imagination to envisage any other way. But it’s not the Jesus way. It’s not the beautiful way. It’s not the way of the cruciform.

Jesus does not save the world by adopting the ways and means of political pragmatism and becoming the best Caesar the world has ever seen. Instead Jesus saves the world by suffering the worst crime humanity is capable of—the crime of deicide (the murder of God). On the cross Jesus absorbed our hate and hostility, our vengeance and violence into His own body and recycled it into love and forgiveness. By his wounds we are healed. By this beauty we are saved.

The third-century theologian Origen observed that “the marvel of Christ is that, in a world where power, riches, and violence seduce hearts and compel assent, he persuades and prevails not as a tyrant, an armed assailant, or a man of wealth, but simply as a teacher of God and his love.”1 Commenting on this, David Bentley Hart says, “Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire. . . . Such an account [of Christ] must inevitably make an appeal to beauty.”2 I absolutely agree! Christ persuades, not by the force of Caesar, but by the beauty of love.

I assume that every Christian would agree with the idea that what Jesus did in his death was beautiful and that somehow this beautiful act is central to our salvation. But the challenge is to translate the beauty of the cruciform into contemporary Christianity—especially a contemporary Christianity obsessed with power and politics. The beauty of the cruciform by which Jesus saves the world through an act of co-suffering love and

costly forgiveness is the same beauty that must characterize the church if we are to show forth the glory of the Lord in our world. But it’s the beauty of cruciform love that is most

marred when we allow the Christian faith to be politicized.

A politicized faith loses its beauty very quickly. I know, because I was once an enthusiastic participant in the process of faith-based politicization. I was willing to subtly, and at times not so subtly, align my church with partisan political agendas. Senators and congressman would visit my church to give their testimonies (always around election time). We handed out “voter guides” so those not paying close enough attention would know how to vote. We found ways to make the elephants and donkeys of the American political process somehow analogous to the sheep and goats in Jesus’s parables. But for me that came to an abrupt end in a fairly dramatic fashion.

In September of 2004 in the heat of a volatile presidential campaign I was asked to give the invocation at a political rally where one of the vice presidential candidates was

appearing. I agreed to do so. I remember well the acrimony outside the convention center where protestors and supporters were busy hurling ugly epithets at one another. Inside the convention center the crowd was being whipped into a political frenzy that amounted to “hurray for our side!” As I sat on the platform with the political acolytes, and me as their rent-a-chaplain, I began to squirm. I knew I was being used. I was a pawn in a political game. I felt like a tool. (And a fool!) When it came time for me to pray (for which the unstated purpose was to let it be known that God was squarely on our side), I stepped to the podium and first prayed silently, “God, what am I doing here? I’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry.” I then offered a largely innocuous prayer and left as soon as I could, promising myself and God that I would never do anything like that again. But in leaving the convention center I again had to run the gauntlet of supporters and protesters yelling at one another with the police in between the two groups to prevent them from being at one another’s throats. It wasn’t pretty. And no prayer could make it pretty. It was petty, partisan, and petulant. I could not imagine Jesus or the apostles sullying their gospel to participate in it.

That moment was a turning point for me. I was no longer willing to see the church as a sidekick to Caesar, fully baptized (immersed, not sprinkled) into the acrimonious world

of partisan politics. It’s not that I’m afraid of controversy or persecution—I am perfectly willing to suffer persecution and ridicule for the sake of Christ (this is part of the cruciform). But I am unwilling to throw myself into the political fray for the sake of partisanship. I’m unwilling to do so because I simply no longer believe that political parties have much to do with God’s redemptive work in the world. Jesus is building his

church, not a political party. And I’m absolutely certain that political partisanship costs us our prophetic voice. We end up a tool to one side, an enemy to the other, and prophetic to neither. The bottom line is there is simply no way to make politics beautiful. But the way of the cruciform is beautiful. And I have made my choice. I choose the beautiful over the pragmatic. I realize that many people will not understand this, but I fully believe this is precisely the choice Jesus made. In choosing the cruciform over the political, Jesus was choosing the beautiful over the pragmatic.

If we are going to recover the form and beauty of Christianity, we are going to have to face squarely the issue of the politicization of the faith, because things are getting ugly. In the current climate of polarized partisanship where everything is now politicized, there is an appalling amount of anger, vitriol, and a general lack of civility. Sadly, millions of confessed followers of Jesus are being swept up in the madness as they give vent to their anger, fully convinced that God is on their side. Their justification is “we’ve got to take America back for God.” Presumably this is to be done by the dubious means of acrimonious partisan politics. But we need to think less politically and more biblically.

Does the church have a mandate to change the world through political means? We have assumed so, but it is a questionable assumption at best. Baptist theologian Russell Moore

has observed that, “Too often, and for too long, American ‘Christianity’ has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”3 But is our mission a kind of political agenda or is it something else? Isn’t our first task to actually be God’s alternative society? Pause and think about that. I’m afraid we’ve made a grave mistake concerning our mission. We’re not so much tasked with running the world as with being a faithful expression of the kingdom of God through following Jesus and living the beautiful life that Jesus sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus described his disciples as sheep among wolves. The mistake of confusing our mission of being faithful as God’s alternative society with trying to rule the world through the crude means of political power is nothing new—it’s the mistake the church has been making for seventeen centuries. Prior to the Roman emperor Constantine, the early church was content to simply be the church—to be a city set upon a hill living the alternative

lifestyle that is the Jesus way. But after the emperor Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the imperial religion, the church embarked upon a project of running the

world in cahoots with Caesar. This project has not turned out well. And it has been particularly damaging to the church. In fact, it has led to the ugliest episodes in church history. The church’s collusion with political agendas led us into the shameful venture of the Crusades and the arrogant doctrine of Manifest Destiny. These things are truly ugly.

The problem with our “change the world” rhetoric is that it is too often a thinly veiled grasp for power and a quest for dominance—things that are antithetical to the way Jesus calls his disciples to live. A politicized faith feeds on a narrative of perceived injury and lost entitlement leading us to blame, vilify, and seek to in some way retaliate against those we imagine responsible for the loss in late modernity of a mythical past. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche as a critic of Christianity identified as ressentiment, and it drives much of the Christian quest for political power. In the Jesus way the end—no matter how

noble—never justifies the means. It’s inevitable that a movement fueled by resentment will soon depart from the Jesus way, and it is bound to become ugly. Jesus specifically told us that we are not to emulate the ugly ways of Caesar in grasping for power and dominance. Instead we are to choose the counterintuitive way of humility, service, and sacrificial love. These things are inherently beautiful. But we have a hard time learning this lesson.

When the disciples James and John (whom for obvious reasons Jesus called “the sons of thunder”) expressed a desire to reign with Christ in their imagined version of Jesus as Caesar, Jesus made it clear that they didn’t know what they were talking about and that the way of political dominance would not be the way of his kingdom. Jesus curtly told his disciples: “It shall not be so among you.”† Jesus was doing something new and truly beautiful; he was not imitating the way and means of Caesar. The brutal Roman Empire had plenty of splendor as veneer, but it lacked any true depth of beauty. Jesus deliberately

chose the beauty of co-suffering love over the brutal pragmatism of political power. When Pilate encountered Christ, he could not understand this—but we must. We must

never forget that Jesus ushered in his kingdom by refusing to oppose Caesar on Caesar’s terms. Jesus didn’t fight political power with political power. Thus Jesus submitted to the

injustice of a state-sponsored execution by telling Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting.” Think about that. It is part of the mystery and beauty of Christianity that the kingdom of God comes, not by the sword of political power, but by the cross of self-sacrificing love. Jesus didn’t smash his foes with the sword of “righteous” political power; instead he absorbed the blow of injustice and committed his fate to the hands of God. In this we find an undeniable truth: we cannot fight for the kingdom of Christ in the same manner that

the nations of the world fight, for the moment we do, we are no longer the kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the world! A politicized mind can only imagine power as political domination, but a Spirit-renewed mind imagines the more excellent way of love—which is the more beautiful way of the cruciform.

Admittedly we live in a world where much is wrong. But what is most wrong with the world is not our politics or Congress or who lives in the White House. This is either the

naïve gullibility or the manipulative rhetoric of partisanship. What is most wrong with the world is the ugly distortion of humanity brought about through the dehumanizing forces of lust, greed, and pride. As followers of Jesus we are not called to campaign for a political solution—for ultimately there is none—but to demonstrate an authentic Christian alternative. We are advocates of another way. Certainly we can participate in the political process, but we must do so primarily as ambassadors of another kingdom exhibiting and teaching the beautiful virtues of that kingdom. This is how we are salt and light. This is what makes us a shining city set upon a hill. We are to model what it means to be Christlike in a Caesar-like world. But to be Christlike in a Caesar-like world requires us to embrace the cruciform.

Of course the cruciform is offensive to the unimaginative mind of pragmatism. Pragmatism sees the cruciform as a passive surrender (though it is anything but that!). Pragmatism believes the only way to change the world is to beat down the bad guys—either with ballots or bullets. But without even raising the thorny issue of who are the bad guys in the ever-escalating world of revenge, the philosophy of “beat down the bad guys” displays an appalling lack of imagination. Pragmatism requires little imagination; it only needs the will to power. Or pragmatism will trot out the oft-quoted axiom from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That is true enough, provided we don’t misapply what it means to “do nothing.” I was once given Burke’s maxim as a counterargument after preaching on the Sermon on the Mount. As if living the Sermon on the Mount is “doing nothing.” Or worse yet, as if a Christian can call upon Edmund Burke to refute Jesus Christ!

But here is the real problem I have with the trajectory of the American evangelical church in the early twenty-first century. If, instead of imitating Christ with his cross, we want to

imitate Caesar with his sword, we inevitably choose the ugly over the beautiful. This approach always leads the church away from living as a witness to the gospel. Being a faithful witness to the gospel should be a hallmark of evangelical Christianity.

But something has gone very wrong. Think about it—that the primary public witness of the American evangelical church for the past thirty years has been political is an absolute tragedy! Evangelicals are no longer known within the wider culture for their devotion to Scripture and their belief in a personal conversion experience. Now evangelicals are known primarily for their politics. This has been anything but helpful. The amount

of hope many evangelical Christians place in politics is nothing short of astonishing! If nothing else, it is naïve—but worse, it is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of the beautiful way of Christ. For in a politicized faith we embrace the ugly pragmatism of political domination over the beauty of the cruciform.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has correctly observed: “The church doesn’t have a social strategy; the church is a social strategy.”4 Instead of trying to force change upon the wider society through means of legislation, we are to exemplify the beautiful alternative of the kingdom of God by actually living it! We make a terrible mistake when we tell the wider society something like this: “We have the truth, so let us run society by setting the rules.” That is a kind of tyranny, no matter how well intended. Instead we should simply be the alternative we seek to produce. We should be a righteous and just society. We should bethe beautiful expression of the kingdom of God attracting people by the unique aesthetic of our gospel. Our form is the cruciform, and our beauty is the mysterious aesthetic of the crucified Savior.

Admittedly, this is a complicated issue that doesn’t yield itself to simplistic solutions. I understand this. Christians have a complicated relationship with the state because we are

a people who carry dual citizenship. We are citizens of both the kingdom of Christ and the particular geopolitical nation we happen to live in. But this much is certain: our first allegiance must be to the kingdom of Christ. Furthermore, we must never make the mistake of thinking God has some kind of commitment to the well-being of our particular nation over the well-being of other nations. This type of ugly and arrogant nationalism is completely incompatible with the Christian faith, which confesses Jesus as Savior of the world and not merely some version of a national deity. Is it possible that American Christians actually believe that Jesus has an interest in the well-being of America over the wellbeing of, say, Mexico or China or Ethiopia? Surely not! This is “American Exceptionalism” as a ridiculous and idolatrous doctrine. Our politicians may traffic in such nonsense, but Christians must not! What Jesus is committed to is the salvation

of the world and the building up of his global church. So whereas Christians are free to participate in the civic and political process of their respective nations, Christians must

do so as those who exhibit a primary allegiance to the Jesus way—the beautiful way of the cruciform. This means treating everyone (including political enemies) with kindness, love, and respect. As followers of Christ, our mission is not to seek to rule the world through Caesar’s means of dominance—a means Jesus explicitly rejected—but to be a faithful church and thus a living example of God’s alternative society.

So, reformation is needed, and the cruciform is what can give shape to our much-needed reformation. In the cruciform we find both our proper form and, subsequently, our unique

beauty. The cruciform as a pattern gives us a means of evaluating our own form and how we present ourselves to the wider culture. With an eye on the cruciform, we can ask ourselves, “Does this attitude, this approach, this action look like Jesus on the cross?” If our attitude, approach, and action cannot be reasonably compared to the image of the cruciform, we need to abandon it. Caesar may adopt it, it may be practical, it may

even be “successful,” but if it’s not Christlike, then it’s not our pattern. Without a radical commitment to the shape of the cruciform, the process of deformation will continue year after year, and our beauty will be lost.

One of the “pliers” that distorts our Christian witness out of shape is the paradigm of protest. For far too long we have been enamored (and distorted) by protest. We love to protest. We really do. We’re good at it. We have lots of practice at it. In protest we find an outlet for our anger, we connect with like-minded people, and we at least feel like we are “making a difference” and “standing up for righteousness.” It’s exciting and cathartic. So we picket, we protest, we boycott, we form petition drives, and we write angry letters to editors and CEOs and encourage other Christians to do the same. We hold rallies where we in no uncertain terms, and with presumed divine sanction, unleash our righteous anger on a wide range of enemies. Liberals, Hollywood, gays, and Muslims are

regular targets. But does it look like the cruciform? Is it beautiful? Would a common observer look at it and say, “That’s beautiful; it reminds me of Jesus”? Do our clenched fists and furrowed brows of protest align nicely with the outstretched arms and compassionate face of Christ on the cross? If not, we have drifted from the pattern of the cruciform in our paradigm of protest, and the inevitable result will be a distortion of

Christianity. As our Christianity takes on more of a political agenda, it sloughs off resemblance to the cruciform. The result is a distinctive loss of beauty. We tend to justify our foray into the unseemly as necessary if we are to preserve morality, but I agree with Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo when he says, “True morality consists in how well we care for one another, not what sort of behaviour we wish to impose on one another.”5

Again I raise the question: Why would we do this? Why would we sacrifice the beauty of the cruciform for something everyone knows is a far cry from beautiful? Why this obsession with political power? I think the answer is that we have a carnal obsession with outcomes. It’s the ugly specter of pragmatism. We want to see a clear and obvious way that our actions are going to result in the desired outcome. We want to do good, achieve good, bring about good, vote in good, legislate good, formulate good, enforce good. So we choose the means that appear most logical in achieving this outcome. But remember, Satan never tempted Jesus with evil; Satan tempted Jesus with good. Satan enticed Jesus to go ahead and do good and to bring it about by the most direct way possible. The

temptation was to imitate the means and methods of the pharaohs and Caesars. Satan tempted Jesus to usher in a righteous world by a bloody sword. “War is impatience.”6 Obsession with outcomes and demanding to see a quick and logical way in which present action will bring about desired good are the ways of Caesar, but they are not the way of the cruciform. Obsession with outcomes is, among other things, an abandonment of faith.

Christians all believe that Jesus achieved salvation through what he did on the cross. (Though the exact way this works remains a matter of theological debate.) But on Good Friday, how could anyone have seen a “logic” in Jesus’s crucifixion? If Jesus’s intent was to save the world from the dominion of evil, how could submitting to an unjust execution at the hands of an oppressive regime accomplish anything like that? It’s absurd! Salvation is ironic because there is nothing logical or practical or obvious about the cross. Fighting is practical. Fighting is logical. Fighting has a long history of (at least temporarily) achieving desired ends. Peter was ready to fight, and presumably so were many others who followed Jesus from Galilee. But Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. There would

be no bloody revolution. No violent resistance. Not even an angry protest. Instead Jesus went to the cross, forgave his enemies, and simply died. In rejecting the way of Caesar, “Christ showed that the world was a text that could be read differently: according to the grammar not of power, but agape.”7

Did evil triumph because this good man did nothing? It certainly seemed so. But don’t forget the dying prayer of Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I think we can understand Jesus’s prayer as something like this: “Father, I have obeyed you, I have shown the world your ways, but the world has rejected me and your ways. I forgive them, but I am dying. So now I entrust everything to you.” This is the way of the cruciform. It is the way of faith.

In going to the cross, Jesus was not being practical; he was being faithful. Jesus didn’t take a pragmatic approach to the problem of evil; Jesus took an aesthetic approach to the problem of evil. Jesus chose to absorb the ugliness of evil and turn it into something beautiful—the beauty of forgiveness. Jesus bore the sin of the world by it being sinned into him with wounds. Jesus bore the sin of the world without a word of recrimination,

but only a prayer of forgiveness. He bore the sin of the world all the way down to death. So that the apostle Peter says, “By his wounds you have been healed.” This is the beauty of the cruciform. This is beauty being derived from pain, or as Bob Dylan says, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.”8

In order to do a beautiful thing, Jesus had to abandon outcomes. He had to entrust the outcome to his Father. On Good Friday Jesus abandoned outcomes, embraced the cross,

and died. Jesus abandoned outcomes in order to be faithful and trust his Father. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.” A lost cause. But then came Easter! The cornerstone of Christian faith is that on Easter Sunday God vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead. But until Easter Sunday no one thought of death, burial, and resurrection as a logical means of achieving good. Even today most people cannot accept the “formula” of the cruciform as a viable means of bringing about good. We want something that makes more sense. Something quicker. Something practical. And what we get are the same old ugly ways of Pharaoh and Caesar. Our embrace of the practical and ugly over the faithful and beautiful

exposes our unbelief. We are orthodox enough to confess that Jesus saves the world through his cross, but we don’t want to imitate it. So we choose the ugly forms of coercion over the beauty of the cruciform—the false morality of the Pharisee over the true morality of Christ. But our critics see this ugliness in us, even if we are unaware of it.

Part of the problem is that in the Western world we are deeply conditioned to choose the heroic over the saintly. We love our heroes best of all. Heroes are goal-oriented people of

great capabilities who know how to make things happen. We admire their ability to get things done and shape the world according to their will. Saints on the other hand—especially to the American mind—seem quaint and marginal, occupying religious spheres on the periphery of the action. We want to be heroes; we don’t really want to be saints. The difference between the heroic vision and the saintly vision is a fundamentally

different way of viewing the purpose of life.

For the hero, the meaning of life is honor . . . for the saint,

the meaning of life is love. . . . For the hero, the goal of

living is self-fulfillment, the achievement of personal

excellence, and the recognition and admiration that

making a signal contribution to one’s society through

one’s achievements carries with it. For the saint, life

does not so much have a goal as a purpose for which

each human being is responsible; and that purpose is

love: the bonds of concern and care that responsibility

for one’s fellow human beings carry with it. . . . These

two paradigms—the hero and the saint—and the way

of life that descends from each, are really two fundamentally

distinct and genuinely different visions of

human society as a whole, and even of what it means to

be a human being. They are two distinct and different

ways of asking the question of the meaning of life.9

Accepting Francis Ambrosio’s paradigms for the hero and saint, we should recognize that the way of Jesus is the way of the saint, but the way of the hero is what we tend to glorify. To speak of the goal of life in terms of self-fulfillment, achievement, and excellence is very American (originally Greek and Roman) and very popular. There are plenty of versions of American Christianity that easily accommodate this basic paradigm. Christianity understood as a program for self-improvement and success in life is how Americanized Christianity most often accommodates itself to contemporary culture. It also makes Christianity popular and “successful.” But an honest reading of the Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that Jesus is teaching something radically different. In the Gospels we see Jesus through his teaching, which sets forth the alternative paradigm of the saint where the purpose of life is love, and the expression of that love is in the form

of care and compassion for our neighbor. The life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels begins as a life of teaching and ends in a life of suffering. But these are not to be separated. At the cross Jesus lived all that he taught. The life of love that Jesus proclaimed in his teaching he lived in his suffering. The life of co-suffering love is the paradigm of the saint, and it is how Jesus lived and died. It is the beauty of the cruciform.

Of course I can hear someone protesting, “But Jesus is my hero!” I understand what is meant by that, but if we are intent upon forcing Jesus into the archetype of typical hero, we distort him. In trying to make Jesus a hero, we miss the simple fact that Jesus did nothing that was conventionally heroic—at least not according to the Western ideal of heroism. Elijah was a conventional hero when he humiliated the prophets of Baal on

Mount Carmel and then executed them at the brook Kishon. But how did Jesus contend with his enemies at Calvary? Not in the heroic manner of Elijah on Carmel, but in a new and saintly way—the way of love and forgiveness. The Jesus of the Gospels is not a heroic general who slaughters his enemies, but a suffering saint who forgives his enemies. And even if one appeals to the Book of Revelation, it should be remembered

that the holy irony perceived in the prophetic metaphors is that the monstrous beasts are conquered by a little slaughtered lamb. It should be clear that the way of Christ is not the way of the conventional hero, because Jesus saves the world not by shedding the blood of his enemies, but by allowing his own blood to be shed in an act of redemptive love. This is the way of the saint, not the hero.

But we struggle with choosing the way of the saint over the way of the hero. Our Christian rhetoric is replete with calls to the heroic as we are urged to “be mighty men and women of God” and “fight the battles of the Lord” and “do great things for God.” We love the idea of being a hero and winning a great battle for God. There’s a lot of what we call “glory” in it. But we’re not so keen on laying down our lives in the manner of Christ at Calvary. We fail to comprehend the glory of the cross. So we struggle with which model to adopt. The hero or the saint? Achilles or Emmanuel? Caesar or Christ? Charlemagne or St. Francis? More often than not we end up choosing the hero, and this feeds one of the ugliest aspects of a misshapen Christianity—triumphalism.

Triumphalism is an ugly form of arrogance engendering a sense of group superiority. Triumphalism is a smugness and boastful pride that one’s nationality or religion is superior to all others. If Christians aren’t careful, they can be easily seduced into the ugliness of triumphalism. As Christians we believe that Jesus has triumphed over sin, Satan, death, hell, and the grave. We confess that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. We call Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords. But this does not entitle us to an attitude of arrogant triumphalism. Confessing the triumph of Christ

should not lead to the ugliness of triumphalism. In fact, the Christian attitude should be the very opposite.

The Christian attitude must be the deep humility exhibited by the apostle Paul when he described himself as “the foremost” of sinners. Paul was able to boldly confess the lordship of Christ while at the same time exhibiting an attitude that was completely devoid of arrogance and triumphalism. In the pluralistic cultures of the modern Western world, the ugliness of triumphalism will prevent multitudes of people from seeing the true beauty of Christianity. If we engage with people of other faiths with the attitude equivalent to “my religious founder can beat up your religious founder,” we should not be surprised if they do not see the Christian faith as inherently beautiful.

A continual turning to the cruciform leaves no room for triumphalism. Yes, Jesus triumphed over evil, but he did so by the counterintuitive way of humbling himself to the point of death, “even death on a cross.”† As we seek to assimilate the cruciform into our lives, it should always produce the beauty of a graceful humility and never the ugliness of arrogant triumphalism. If we are to show forth the beauty of Christ in our world, we must banish triumphalist attitudes from among us. It was the attitude of triumphalism in the Middle Ages that led to the ugly actions of the Crusades. Since Jesus had triumphed through the cross, it was reasoned, why not help spread his triumph through the conquest of the sword? The Crusades were the ugly offspring of a union of power-obsessed

pragmatism and arrogant religious triumphalism, and I fear that this kind of distorted thinking may have certain modern equivalents.

One more thought on heroes and saints. Heroes tend to be heroes to only one side—their side. Heroes attain their glory in an “us versus them” context. For example, the French and the Russians have decidedly different views of Napoleon, just as Americans and Mexicans will view Santa Anna differently. But saints, over time, tend to be universally recognized for their saintliness. It has to do with the universality of love. It’s why nearly everyone admires St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta whether or not they are Christian. St. Francis and Mother Teresa are preeminent examples of lives shaped by the cruciform to a degree that their lives of co-suffering love have come to be universally recognized as lives of beauty.

So in the present situation in which the American evangelical church finds itself, there is a desperate need to recover a theology of beauty. The way out of the mess and confusion of a politicized faith is to follow the path of beauty. It is the way of beauty that will lead us home to a more authentic Christianity. A theology of beauty is the antidote to the poison of pragmatism and the toxin of triumphalism. Perhaps no other theologian has done as much to develop a theology of beauty as the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. In his work on love as form and beauty he writes:

Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed,

and nothing else ought to be believed. This is the

achievement, the “work” of faith . . . to believe that

there is such a thing as love . . . and that there is

nothing higher or greater than it. . . . The first thing

that must strike a non-Christian about the Christian’s

faith is that . . . it is obviously too good to be true: the

mystery of being, revealed as absolute love, condescending

to wash his creatures’ feet, and even their

souls, taking upon himself all the confusion of guilt,

all the God-directed hatred, all the accusations showered

upon him with cudgels . . . all the mocking hostility

. . . in order to pardon his creature. . . . This is truly

too much.10

Indeed, it is too much! The apostle Paul would describe this extravagance as “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” The picture of God as seen in the redemptive co-suffering love of Christ is too much in the sense that it overwhelms us in much the same way that we find a stunning sculpture, a masterpiece painting, or a majestic sunset overwhelming—it is the experience of being overawed by a transcendent beauty. This is

how the gospel is made most compelling—by making it beautiful. Instead of trying to overwhelm a cynical world weary of argument and suspicious of truth claims with the force of logic and debate, what if they were overwhelmed with the perception and persuasion of beauty?

Beauty is graceful and has a way of sneaking past our defenses. It’s hard to argue with beauty. Beauty is compelling in its own way. What I am suggesting is that we look to

beauty as a primary standard for our theology, witness, and action. As radical as it may sound to those who have grown up in the sterile world of late modernity, asking the question Is it beautiful? is a valid and viable way to evaluate what we believe and do. We should ask ourselves: “Is this a beautiful doctrine?” “Is this a beautiful witness?” “Is this a beautiful practice?” Along with asking if it is true and if it is good, we should also ask if is it beautiful. Truth and goodness need beauty. Truth claims divorced from beauty can become condescending. Goodness minus beauty can become moralistic. To embrace truth and goodness in the Christian sense, we must also embrace beauty.

At least as far back as the Greek philosopher Plato, beauty was understood not merely as an adornment, but as a value as important as truth and goodness. It was only in the twentieth century that beauty began to be diminished as a value. Now we live in a day when pragmatism and utilitarian “values” have largely displaced beauty as a value. But the loss of beauty as a principal value has been disastrous for Western culture. One obvious example of what has befallen us is the loss of aesthetic sensibilities in architecture. Where once the role of architecture was to help beautify the shared space of our cities and neighborhoods, now the role of architecture is to build utilitarian structures as cheaply as possible. The result has been a profound loss of beauty. It’s a kind of vandalism. What modern building would people a thousand years from now flock to visit as we do the Notre Dame Cathedral today? If the Gothic cathedral was the architectural statement of the Middle Ages, the “big box” store may well be the architectural statement of our age. This is tragic. But what if what has happened to architecture is also happening to Christianity? What if modern architecture mirrors what is happening in modern

Christianity? What if utility is triumphing over beauty in the way we think about the church? This is alarming.

As our world turns its back on beauty, the result is that we are increasingly surrounded by ugliness and images of alienation. Think of government housing projects and the soulless

strip malls of suburbia. Art itself is under assault. Art is now largely driven, not by time-tested standards of beauty, but by the marketplace. So the question is no longer, “Is it beautiful?,” but “Will it sell?” (Is this too reflected in the church?) In a world where kitsch, profit, and vulgarity are vandalizing art, philosopher Roger Scruton worries that we are in danger of losing beauty, and with it the meaning of life.11 Yes, the loss of beauty is related to the loss of meaning. Attaining to the beautiful is a valid way of understanding the meaning of life—especially when we recognize a link between the sacred and the beautiful. For thousands of years, artists, sages, philosophers, and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God. It has only been during the modern phenomenon of secularism—what

Nietzsche described as the “death of God”—that we have severed the beautiful from the divine. But when the beautiful is severed from the absolute (God), what passes for beautiful can be anything and everything—which is to say nothing. There really is a profound connection between the loss of beauty and the loss of meaning.

Yet despite the modern assault upon art and beauty, the hunger for beauty abides deep in the human heart. That the allure of beauty is part of the human makeup is clearly seen

every time a child picks up crayons and tries to capture the beauty of the world around him. And it is to this firmly entrenched desire for beauty that we should appeal in our

efforts to communicate the gospel. If we can show a world lost in the ugliness of consumer-driven pragmatism and power-hungry politics the true beauty of Christ, it will be irresistibly appealing. For too long we have relied upon the cold logic of apologetics to persuade or the crass techniques of the marketplace to entice, when what we should do is creatively hold forth the transcendent beauty of Jesus Christ. But to do this, we must examine what we preach and what we practice in the light of the beauty of the cruciform.

We need to constantly ask ourselves, “Is this beautiful? Is this thought beautiful? Is the attitude beautiful? Is this action beautiful? Does it reflect the beauty of Christ and the cruciform?” If finger-pointing isn’t beautiful, then we should abandon it. If politically based protest isn’t beautiful, then maybe we can do without it. If the common man doesn’t recognize what we do in the name of Christ as beautiful, we should at least reexamine it. If a particular doctrine doesn’t come across as truly beautiful, then we should hold it suspect. Someone may raise the question, “Can beauty be trusted?” I believe it can, as long as we make the critical distinction between the shallow and

faddish thing that our modern culture calls “image” and the absolute value that our ancestors have always understood as beauty. We can rightly evaluate our faith and practice in terms of beauty for this very reason: The Lord and his ways are beautiful.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

It’s time to recover the form and beauty of Christianity. Our enduring icon of beauty and the standard by which we gauge the beauty of our actions is the cruciform. The cross is a beautiful mystery—a mystery where an unexpected beauty is in the process of rescuing the world from its ugliness. Beauty will save the world. This is the surprising beauty of the cross when seen through the prism of the resurrection. The cross made beautiful is the ultimate triumph of God and his grace. If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Mercy Come Morning by Lisa T. Bergren

7 Nov

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Mercy Come Morning

WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)

***Special thanks to Laura Tucker of WaterBrook Press for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

LISA BERGREN is the best-selling, award-winning author of more than thirty books, with more than two million copies sold. A former publishing executive, she now splits her time working as a freelance editor and writer while parenting three children with her husband, Tim, and dreaming of the family’s next visit to Taos.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

There are no second chances. Or are there?

Krista Mueller is in a good place. She’s got a successful career as a professor of history; she’s respected and well-liked; and she lives hundreds of miles from her hometown and the distant mother she could never please. It’s been more than a decade since Alzheimer’s disease first claimed Charlotte Mueller’s mind, but Krista has dutifully kept her mother in a first-class nursing home.

Now Charlotte is dying of heart failure and, surprised by her own emotions, Krista rushes to Taos, New Mexico, to sit at her estranged mother’s side as she slips away. Battling feelings of loss, abandonment, and relief, Krista is also unsettled by her proximity to Dane McConnell, director of the nursing home—and, once upon a time, her first love. Dane’s kind and gentle spirit—and a surprising discovery about her mother—make Krista wonder if she can at last close the distance between her and her mother … and open the part of her heart she thought was lost forever.

“A timeless tale, to be kept every day in the heart as a reminder
that forgiveness is a gift to self.”
—PATRICIA HICKMAN, author of The Pirate Queen

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307730107
ISBN-13: 978-0307730107

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“She’s dying, Krista.”

I took a long, slow breath. “She died a long time ago, Dane.”

He paused, and I could picture him formulating his next words, something that would move me. Why was my relationship with my mother so important to him? I mean, other than the fact that she was a patient in his care. “There’s still time, Kristabelle.”

I sighed. Dane knew that his old nickname for me always got to me. “For what? For long, deep conversations?” I winced at the harsh slice of sarcasm in my tone.

“You never know,” he said quietly. “An aide found something you should see.”

“What?”

“Come. I’ll keep it here in my office until you arrive. Consider it a Christmas present.”

“It’s December ninth.”

“Okay, consider it an early present.”

It was typical of him to hold out a mysterious hook like that. “I don’t know, Dane. The school term isn’t over yet. It’s a hard time to get someone to cover for me.” It wasn’t the whole truth. I had an assistant professor who could handle things on her own. And I could get back for finals. Maybe. Unless Dane wasn’t overstating the facts.

“Krista. She’s dying. Her doctor tells me she has a few weeks, tops. Tell your department chair. He’ll let you go. This is the end.” I stared out my cottage window to the old pines that covered my yard in shadows. The end. The end had always seemed so far away. Too far away. In some ways I wanted an end to my relationship with my mother, the mother who had never loved me as I longed to be loved. When she started disappearing, with her went so many
of my hopes for what could have been. The road to this place had been long and lonely. Except for Dane. He had always been there, had always waited. I owed it to him to show. “I’ll be there on Saturday.”

“I’ll be here. Come and find me.”

“Okay. I teach a Saturday morning class. I can get out of here after lunch and down there by five or six.”

“I’ll make you dinner.”

“Dane, I—”

“Dinner. At seven.”

I slowly let my mouth close and paused. I was in no mood to argue with him now. “I’ll meet you at Cimarron,” I said.
“Great. It will be good to see you, Kristabelle.” I closed my eyes, imagining him in his office at Cimarron Care Center. Brushing his too-long hair out of his eyes as he looked through his own window.

“It will be good to see you, too, Dane. Good-bye.”

He hung up then without another word, and it left me feeling slightly bereft. I hung on to the telephone receiver as if I could catch one more word, one more breath, one more connection with the man who had stolen my heart at sixteen.

Dane McConnell remained on my mind as I wrapped up things at the college, prepped my assistant, Alissa, to handle my history classes for the following week, and then drove the scenic route down to Taos from Colorado Springs, about a five-hour trip. My old Honda Prelude hugged the roads along the magnificent San Luis Valley. The valley’s shoulders were still covered in late spring snow, her belly carpeted in a rich, verdant green. It was here that in 1862 Maggie O’Neil single-handedly led a wagon train to settle a town in western Colorado, and nearby Cecilia Gaines went so
crazy one winter they named a waterway in her honor—“Woman Hollering Creek.”

I drove too fast but liked the way the speed made my scalp tingle when I rounded a corner and dipped, sending my stomach flying. Dane had never driven too fast. He was methodical in everything he did, quietly moving ever forward. He had done much in his years since grad school, establishing Cimarron and making it a national think tank for those involved in gerontology. After high school we had essentially ceased communication for years before Cimarron came about. Then when Mother finally got to the point in her descent into Alzheimer’s that she needed fulltime institutionalized care, I gave him a call. I hadn’t been able to find a facility that I was satisfied with for more than a year, when a college friend had shown me the magazine article on the opening of Cimarron and its patron saint, Dane McConnell.

“Good looking and nice to old people,” she had moaned. “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?”

“I know him,” I said, staring at the black-and-white photograph.

“Get out.”

“I do. Or did. We used to be…together.”

“What happened?” she asked, her eyes dripping disbelief.

“I’m not sure.”

I still wasn’t sure. Things between us had simply faded over the years. But when I saw him again, it all seemed to come back. Or at least a part of what we had once had. There always seemed to be a submerged wall between us, something we couldn’t quite bridge or blast through. So we had simply gone swimming toward different shores.

Mother’s care had brought us back together over the last five years. With the congestive heart failure that was taking her body, I supposed the link between us would finally be severed. I would retreat to Colorado, and he would remain in our beloved Taos, the place of our youth, of our beginnings, of our hearts. And any lingering dream of living happily ever after with Dane McConnell could be buried forever with my unhappy memories of Mother.

I loosened my hands on the wheel, realizing that I was gripping

it so hard my knuckles were white. I glanced in the rearview mirror, knowing that my reverie was distracting me from paying attention to the road. It was just that Dane was a hard man to get over. His unique ancestry had gifted him with the looks of a Scottish Highlander and the sultry, earthy ways of the Taos Indians. A curious, inspiring mix that left him with both a leader’s stance and a wise man’s knowing eyes. Grounded but visionary. A driving force, yet empathetic at the same time. His employees loved working for him. Women routinely fell in love with him.

I didn’t know why I could never get my act together so we could finally fall in love and stay in love. He’d certainly done his part. For some reason I’d always sensed that Dane was waiting for me, of all people. Why messed-up, confused me? Yet there he was. I’d found my reluctance easy to blame on my mother. She didn’t love me as a mother should, yada-yada, but I’d had enough time with my counselor to know that there are reasons beyond her. Reasons that circle back to myself.

I’d always felt as if I was chasing after parental love, but the longer I chased it, the further it receded from my reach. It left a hole in my heart that I was hard-pressed to fill. God had come close to doing the job. Close. But there was still something there, another blockade I had yet to blast away. I would probably be working on my “issues” my whole life. But as my friend Michaela says, “Everyone’s got issues.” Supposedly I need to embrace them. I just want them to go away.

“Yeah,” I muttered. Dane McConnell was better off without me. Who needed a woman still foundering in her past?

I had to focus on Mother. If this was indeed the end, I needed to wrap things up with her. Find closure. Some measure of peace. Even if she couldn’t say the words I longed to hear.

I love you, Krista.

Why was it that she had never been able to force those four words from her lips?

Excerpted from Mercy Come Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Tawn Bergren. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Megan’s Secret by Mike Cope

26 Oct

Amy’s note:  My apologies to FIRST, the publisher, and the author for my lateness in posting about Megan’s Secret.  Due to my recent health issues (the most recent being the tooth infection that just won’t go away!), I completely forgot about this tour.  This is a great book, so take some time to read all about it!

***

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me about Life

Leafwood Publishers (June 14, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mike Cope is an author, blogger, professor, minister and magazine editor. He has written four books, including What Would Jesus Do Today? and One Holy Hunger. He was a minister for many years at the Highland Church in Abilene and now works with Heartbeat Ministries. He and his wife, Diane, live in Abilene, Texas, and have two surviving children: Matt, a resident in internal medicine at Duke University, and Chris, a junior in high school.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Mike Cope’s best teacher was his mentally disabled daughter—Megan. In her ten years of life, she taught her father secrets more profound than anything he’d learned in college or seminary. In his moving remembrance, Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me about Life, Cope shares those secrets in a way that will make readers laugh, cry and find new hope.
Megan was a beautiful pint-sized girl whose only spoken words were “I’m Megan!” Although a child of few words, the best scholars in the world could not teach what she did in her brief life. Her life exposed some of the insanities of the world and revealed some life-giving secrets such as:

We are often fascinated with things that are impressive from the outside but which may not be that important to God. What really matters has to do with the heart: keeping promises, seeking justice in a brutal world, learning to see those in greatest need and living with courage, joy and unconditional love.  God uses our brokenness to His glory.

This unique inspirational book wraps these secrets and more into stories that will restore hope to those grieving. All readers who long to see modern-day examples of the “little ones” Jesus held on his lap and loved will be inspired and moved to exult in God’s incredible wisdom. What Mike discovers is that life with Megan, who slept only three hours a night, was exhausting, challenging, and even disappointing but also filled with joy and truths.
Max Lucado, best-selling author and minister, says, “The world would look at Megan Cope and her brief little life and see limitations. Imperfections. Inabilities. Her dad, just like her heavenly Father, saw something else entirely. Joy. Big heart. Love. Wisdom. Raising a disabled daughter, and then saying goodbye after a brief ten years of life, Mike knows the struggles, triumphs, pain, everyday miracles. . . and the secrets. Secrets God shares with those who care for the least among us. In Megan’s Secrets, my friend Mike shares the wisdom he learned from loving Megan.”

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (June 14, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0891122869
ISBN-13: 978-0891122869

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Looking for a Few Good Eggs

I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you—eternal innocence. . . . She will never offend me, as all of you have done. She will never pervert or destroy the works of my Father’s hands. She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human. . . . This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!1

MR. ATHA (the returned Christ) speaking of a child with Down Syndrome in Morris West’s The Clowns of God
A while back, I read an essay in Atlantic Monthly by Jessica Cohen, a Yale University student. She told about spotting a classified ad in the Yale Daily News: EGG DONOR NEEDED.
The couple placing the ad was looking for an egg from just the right donor, and they were willing to pay big bucks, to the tune of twenty-five thousand dollars. She learned that they wanted an Ivy League university student who was over 5 feet 5 inches tall, of Jewish heritage, athletic, and attractive and who had a minimum combined SAT score of 1500.

Being a bit short on cash, Cohen thought she might follow the lead. Cohen began corresponding with the anonymous couple. And as she did, she was introduced to a whole world of online ads by such desperate couples. She found one website with five hundred classifieds posted. An eBay for genetic material, she thought. Plus, there were ads like the following from young women wanting to sell their eggs:

Hi! My name is Kimberly. I am 24 years old, 5’11” with

blonde hair and green eyes. I previously donated eggs and

the couple was blessed with BIG twin boys! The doctor told

me I have perky ovaries! . . . The doctor told me I had the

most perfect eggs he had ever seen.

Cohen’s e-mails with the husband were strange. He and his wife were concerned about her scores in science and math. Then she sent a few pictures they had requested. The husband responded: “I showed the pictures to [my wife] this a.m. Personally, I think you look great. She said ho-hum.”
After that, Cohen’s correspondence with the couple abruptly ended.2
What kind of bizarre world is this? Our culture is fascinated with the “accidents” of birth: looks, athletic ability, and IQ. What if volcanic ash suddenly covered the United States, and it wasn’t until centuries later that archaeologists dug down to uncover our civilization, but the only written material they could locate were magazines from the checkout counters of grocery stores? What would those archaeologists assume about us? Maybe that we were the most shallow group of people ever?

This world of genetic engineering would favor my sons. But who—in our success-driven world—would want my daughter’s genetic makeup? She was, after all, mentally disabled. She would never take the SAT test, she wasn’t headed toward an Ivy League school, and chances were really good she wasn’t going to be over 5’5”! She couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, and couldn’t brag of any trophies. We have classes in schools for “gifted and talented” students. By that standard, my daughter

wasn’t very successful.
And yet she was the most radical witness to the love of God I’ve ever met. She changed our world. I wonder: What if our society awarded friendliness, forgiveness, endurance, joyfulness, and unconditional love?

Megan was a quiet, loving witness to the gospel. She was an incarnation of God’s love. She received whatever gifts of service we offered to her without expecting more. She embodied the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Let the world search for “the perfect egg.” But our eyes have been opened by the breaking through of the kingdom in Jesus Christ. We’ve heard him say, “God bless you—you who are poor in spirit. God bless you—you who mourn. And God bless you—you who are meek.”

One of Megan’s much older friends was inspired by her life and wrote the following about her:

Megan proclaimed her message in her life. She was a

walking icon of Christ’s admonition to take no thought for

tomorrow, but simply, in faith, to let each day unfold on

its own. I doubt it ever occurred to Megan to make long-range

plans or to fear what the next five minutes might

bring. Megan, like the birds of the air and the lilies of the

field, trusted in the Creator, through his human agents,

to supply whatever requirements she might have. She

knew no other way to live. And in that respect, she sits in

judgment on us all, and leads us toward a more primitive

and perfect trust.

So many people were drawn to Megan. I think many college students in particular were drawn to her because they were being constantly bombarded everywhere else with messages about who they were supposed to be in order to be successful in this life. And the powerful reminder they always received from being with Megan was that success has more to do with internal qualities of the heart than with external circumstances and accidents of birth.
A society reveals a lot about itself by what it esteems and rewards. Apparently, we tend to value accidents of birth that we chisel and hone into perfection, then put on display—and even then we airbrush out the imperfections: how you look in a swimsuit, what you score on your SAT, how fast you can run a forty-yard dash.

No wonder so many people end up feeling bad about themselves. Some express this in self-loathing, others in arrogance. We watch anorexic models on television who’ve had surgical assistance with their shape, and we start feeling bad about ourselves. We often feel we’re too short, too tall, too wide, too skinny, hips too big, hips too small, curve too much, don’t curve enough. No wonder plastic surgery is such a booming business. Convince enough people that they are a mess as they are now, and you have an endless supply of business.

Megan had a way of exposing the insanity of all this craziness. As my friend Thom Lemmons said:

Megan was a flesh-and-blood display of the topsyturvy

economy of the kingdom of heaven. She was one

of the least of us, yet she occupied the apex of our care,

absorbing all the loving service we could offer, and able

to absorb still more. Without any thank you, without any

false reticence, without even seeming to notice, she took all

that we could give her, and still we were left with the sense

that it was not enough.

And yet, to anyone who held her down for a breathing

treatment, or marched with her through the church

parking lot, singing, “I’m in the Lord’s army. Yes, sir!” or

changed her soiled undergarments, or tried in vain to

rescue some semi-edible artifact from her unbelievably

quick hands, or held her as she gasped for breath—to

anyone who ever poured a minute’s worth of love down

the bottomless pit that was Megan, the blessing that

followed beggared any other reward.

Megan taught us all the difference in value between

receiving and giving. We only wished we could have done

more: there was no question of doing less. And all the

while, we were the ones being made over—by her innocent

carelessness and her shattering need—into a closer

imitation of the One who poured out his life as a ransom

for many.

One day, Thom and Cheryl Lemmons were taking care of Megan at a time when she needed oxygen to survive. Thom describes how he thought he’d figured out a secret to Megan’s care.

The trick was to keep Megan within a short enough

radius of her oxygen tank to permit the tubes to stay in

her nostrils and simultaneously remain connected to the

hose. She was also prone to seizures then, but I didn’t

know that. At one point, I remember having her in my lap

on the floor of the living room, and I may have even been

singing to her. For a few moments, the ceaseless thrashing

stopped, the grasping fingers were still, and she stared up

into my face with what appeared to me as a beatific half smile.

Then, after a minute or two, we resumed the Greco-

Roman wrestling match. “What a wonderful, peaceful,

very brief interlude,” I thought, as I put her oxygen tubes

back in place for the 5,357th time, “no doubt, made

possible by my instinctive gentleness and boundless

patience. Surely, even Megan is not immune to my gifts.”

Later, over lunch, I was relating to the Copes and

Cheryl my moment of epiphany with Megan, there on the

living room floor. Diane got a slightly embarrassed look

as I described the scene. Cheryl leaned over to me and

whispered, “Thom, she wasn’t listening to you sing; she

was having a seizure.”

Classic Megan: if ever your sense of “Christian duty”

became self-congratulatory or the least bit inflated by

a sense of its own worth, Megan would simply leave you

holding the punctured bag, and allow you to deal with

your own deflated ego. Megan, how could we ever repay

all that you taught us?

Megan’s simple-yet-profound life reminded us that God is a heart specialist who looks deeper than accidents of birth.

On the day she died, Diane and I were leaning over her praying for her, telling her we loved her, and assuring her it was all right to go. We almost forgot that anyone else was in the room. But the moment she took her last breath in the pediatric intensive care unit, my mother stood up from her chair behind us and began singing Megan’s favorite song:

I may never march in the infantry,

ride in the cavalry,

shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy,

but I’m in the Lord’s army.

Later it hit me: Megan had been preparing us her whole life with her simple little song. It’s like she’d been telling us that there were many things she’d never do, but we shouldn’t worry, because she’s in the Lord’s army. There’s a little grave just outside Abilene that bears her name, the dates of her abbreviated life, and then the words “I’m in the Lord’s army.”

This tiny minister taught me more than I learned in ninety hours of graduate school. She taught me that God will use my brokenness to his glory. She reminded me that the power is God’s, not mine. She made me remember we are often fascinated with things that are impressive from the outside but which may not be that important to God. She taught me that what really matters has to do with the heart: keeping promises, seeking justice in a brutal world, learning to see those in greatest need, and living with courage, joy, and unconditional love.

Now, years later, my diminutive instructor-daughter is still guiding me.

FIRST Wild Card Tour + Review: Passion to Action by Jay and Beth Loecken

7 Sep

Amy’s Thoughts: Due to pressing personal circumstances, I didn’t finish Passion to Action yet. However, what I read has intrigued me. I can’t imagine a family giving up the “American dream” for a Kingdom dream. However, that’s exactly what the Jay and Beth Loecken did. At first, I thought it was a little cruel to force their kids to go along with this vision, but then again, what better way to teach the Loecken children than by example. Sure, they don’t won’t have the same experiences as their peers. Neither did the missionary kids I met as I grew older. You know what? That’s OK. We only have one life to make a difference and we can start making that difference at any age. (Read on to learn more about Passion to Action and peruse the first chapter.)

***

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Passion to Action

Guideposts (September 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Jay Loecken grew up on an eighty-acre hobby farm in Minnesota as the youngest of three boys. His upbringing was solid with loving parents who were always encouraging him to try new things. He grew up in a Christian home, but his faith really began to develop during his sophomore year at Northwestern College while living in Dublin, Ireland for the summer and working with Greater Europe Mission. That’s when the Bible began to come to life for him and he began developing his own convictions.

Beth Loecken’s upbringing could not have been any more different. She grew up in Kansas City in a Catholic home as the youngest of six children. Her mother battled depression and eventually committed suicide when Beth was only five. Beth’s father retreated into alcoholism, leaving her in a chaotic and unstable environment where she was often abused. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York where she discovered her first true love—Jesus. He offered her a love and redemption she had craved her entire life.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Jay and Beth Loecken were an ordinary family searching for meaning in their lives while living the American Dream. They owned their dream house, drove nice cars, and from the outside seemed to have all they needed. Yet something kept pulling at them—a stirring, a sense that they were being called to a greater purpose in life. They couldn’t escape the feeling that there was more to life than the relentless pursuit of material possessions.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99

Hardcover: 238 pages

Publisher: Guideposts (September 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0824948572

ISBN-13: 978-0824948573

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

DECEMBER 2006 ATLANTA, GEORGIA

BETH» Something unsettling had been stirring in our hearts for a very long time. We both knew we wanted—no, make that needed—something more out of life than what we had already achieved. By all definitions, we were living the good life: privileged and full of prosperity. Jay’s business as a mortgage broker had afforded us a very comfortable lifestyle. We owned a forty-five-hundred-square-foot house in Alpharetta, Georgia, that was our dream home—right down to the perfect and beautifully landscaped backyard we had just finished putting the final touches on.

Although we weren’t wealthy, we were quite comfortable. We were actively involved in our church, had a great family life, and were living a pretty good existence. Our four children didn’t have to wear secondhand clothes. We were able to take the entire family to the movies and out to dinner whenever we wanted to without thinking about the cost. We pretty much had the ability to have whatever we wanted at the drop of a hat.

Along with our home, we owned two cars, a motorcycle, and were close to purchasing a new boat and convertible BMW. For years we gave ourselves almost every luxury a family like ours could hope for.

Our lifestyle had become what you might think of as ideal—the American dream personified. Yet with all of the success we had achieved, and although we were generally happy, we were not feeling fulfilled. There was a void in us—an emptiness that living only for oneself brings. We weren’t comfortable living caught up in what other people thought of us.

While Jay was making loads of money, we trusted in our finances instead of God. If or when we had a need, it was taken care of without a thought.

We were living the dream—right?

The only problem was that we no longer needed to depend on God. It was easy to stop trusting in Him for provision and relying on Him for our needs. Our relationship with Jesus became less desperate and, at times, stagnant.

Four years of living the dream and still, we couldn’t shake an ever-present feeling that kept tugging at Jay and me.

Simply said, we knew there had to be more; but we had absolutely no idea what it was we were looking for.

There was a void, a longing, an empty place deep inside of us that seemed to quietly whisper that our lives were missing “something.” We thought the something was more stuff. We had struggled financially for years prior to coming to Atlanta, and the fact that we could buy new furniture and make all the updates to our home without a thought felt good. We thought the something that was missing from our previous financially strapped life was things: a comfortable lifestyle, kids in sports, nice clothes, a nice neighborhood, and a settled life. The only problem was that once those things were all purchased or attained, they seemed to breed more discontent. One purchase or update led to another and it went on and on. The something was never filled; in fact, material things seemed to make the ache grow deeper because they caused us to realize that we would never be filled that way.

When our life would finally quiet down (typically on a Sunday), and after hearing a great message at church, we would follow the thousands of others who filed out of church, jump in our nice car, and head home. But we began to notice a deep loneliness and hollowness. We felt sadly alone, empty, and purposeless. We never felt this way when our life was hurried and chaotic. In fact, when we noticed the emptiness creeping in, we would busy ourselves around the house, cleaning, organizing, “doing” so that we didn’t have to answer the ever-noticeable voice we both heard calling to us. In many ways, we didn’t want to face the questions that were rising up inside of us.

Did our lives matter?

What were our goals?

Is this really the abundant life?

What are we craving?

The ache was not there in the beginning; but as our dream life ended up not being the big deal that we thought it would be, it began to grow and grow in our hearts. I think we glamorized what having money would be like. I believe we thought that all of our financial worries would be over, all of our longings would be fulfilled, our hearts would be content, and our relationships would be rich. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The more we owned, the more stress and responsibility we had. The more things we filled our life up with, the less time we had for deep relationships.

Once we had money, we stopped praying about whether to purchase items.

It was simple, did we want it? Check.

Did we have the perfect location in our house for it? Check.

Could we afford it? Check.

Our evaluation process did not involve God in any way. Our needs were met simply by Jay working harder and longer hours. The harder he worked, the bigger his paycheck was. We made sacrifices and began to place money and material things in front of family time and our marriage. I didn’t get upset or nag him when he would come home at eight o’clock when the kids were slipping into bed—because, selfishly, I wanted to live the life we were living. I wanted to be able to finish our basement and drive a nice car. It was a vicious cycle, and it slowly began to chip away at the foundation of our marriage and family. When times are good, you think they will always be good and you often don’t or can’t see what’s around the corner.

But something clicked when we started to think about the dreams for authentic living that we had given up. We somehow saw that what was happening was the complete opposite. We realized that we had let the deceitfulness of money creep into our lives. We knew we needed a change.

In an effort to clearly understand what was missing, we decided to spend a weekend alone at our friends’ condo in downtown Atlanta. We needed a change of atmosphere to focus on figuring out our next move. The friends who offered us their condominium agreed to watch our children for the weekend up at our house. A weekend in the suburbs sounded pretty good to them—even with four kids who were not theirs!

While most couples would take a weekend away from their kids to enjoy each other’s company, check out the newest trendy restaurant or nightclub, or just blow off a little steam, we chose to do none of those things.

Nope.

Our weekend was devoted to figuring out what it was we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. We went on long walks and shared our deepest thoughts and feelings about life, fulfillment, and our discontent. As we spoke, we both realized that we no longer wanted our lives to be about ourselves. It’s hard to imagine that the parents of four young children could possibly feel selfish in any way—but we did. We were always present as parents, but our thoughts rarely extended beyond the white picket fence that surrounded our peaceful and sheltered existence. We had a deep desire to make our lives about something so much bigger than our tiny little bubble we’d been living in.

We talked about all of the friends we’d made over the years and how we each craved deeper relationships than we shared with most of them. I look back on the early years of our marriage when we had very deep, rich relationships. What was different back then? Why didn’t we have that now with couples in Atlanta? I think the number-one factor was time or the lack thereof. It takes time to build a friendship and to grow close to people. When we were first married, we had time. Looking back, I can’t believe how much time we had! Now, years later, we had four kids, a busy family, and a hectic lifestyle. Free time was a thing of the past.

We often reminisced about the “good ol’ days” when life was simple and relationships and time with other couples came easy. We began to realize that we wanted a different version of our old life. We wanted simplicity, deeper relationships, and time.

The other obstacle to forming deep friendships was our willingness to be vulnerable and open with our lives. Jay and I have always been open people who lay everything out on the table. Some people simply don’t like that. It makes them uncomfortable to talk about their feelings, mistakes, or marital disagreements. We find it refreshing because—let’s face it—we all have struggles. We have never really enjoyed being around people who give the impression that they have it all together. This type of phoniness leads to artificial relationships that never seem to go anywhere.

We had a hard time finding like-minded people we meshed with in Atlanta too. We are very simple, down-to-earth people, and we felt a little out of place living the “big lifestyle.” We would go to events and parties and feel like we didn’t fit in. Jay doesn’t wear penny loafers, and I don’t wear designer clothes. We prefer Converse sneakers, Target, and knock-offs.

Often we would find ourselves gravitating to the members of the band performing at the parties. At the time, hearing about their broken marriages and past drug addictions, they were the only ones we could see who seemed real. That was more real to us than trying to keep up with shallow small talk that seemed to inundate the events we attended.

We tried to fit in, wear the right clothes, say the right things, rub shoulders with the right people; but at the end of the day we were empty. We realized that we are really just who we are—simple, average people—and we will never be happy being people we are not.

We were created to be in relationships: first and foremost with God and then with people. Most human beings crave love and desire to be known. Some of us may not admit it, but it’s real. We need each other. Although we did not find the depth of relationships we were seeking in Atlanta, I personally found that connection with two close women friends. Jay, however, did not; and that took a toll on him. Yes, we have each other and we are best friends, but sometimes a guy just needs to be with “the guys.” They need to play golf, talk about work, and relate on a man-to-man level. I couldn’t offer Jay what he could only get from someone who walks in his shoes. He did stay in contact with other close, out-of-town friends, and that seemed to fill the void.

After two days and endless hours of dialogue, we knew there was a higher calling reaching out to us. We wanted to somehow give back for all of the good fortune and blessings God had bestowed upon us. Our decision was to find a mission trip through our church that would give us the opportunity to do something for those in need and the poor.

»»»»»

We had both seen images on television with the beautiful and innocent faces of African children in need. Who among us can honestly say those unforgettable photos don’t move you or tug at your heartstrings?

Not us!

We can’t explain our attraction and the heart we had for Africa other than just knowing in the deepest part of our souls that this was where we wanted to go to be of service. We knew seeing those faces live and in person would make their plight all too real; and, therefore, it would be a life-changing experience. Of course, at the time, we had no way of knowing just how far it would take us away from the only life we had ever known.

When we started looking into mission trip options, the only destination our church was currently offering that allowed families was to China. No offense to China, but we didn’t want to go there. Frustrated and unsure of what to do next, we prayed about our desire to serve in Africa until one day, not long after we made the decision to do this type of mission work, we spoke to Jenny Strange. She was one of several people responsible for mission trips at North Point, our church. North Point Community Church is a large church in Alpharetta, Georgia led by Pastor Andy Stanley, the son of Charles Stanley. Andy started this church in 1995 not because Atlanta needed another church, but because he wanted to create a safe place where people who were seeking the truth about Jesus Christ would feel comfortable attending. I think he was successful because North Point now has over twenty thousand people who attend their weekend services.

The missions department decided to open up a trip for families to Africa. The mission was going to be a joint effort between North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, and 410 Bridge, an organization that partners people and groups with communities in Kenya.

Perfect!

This was exactly what we hoped to find.

As we continued to discuss the opportunity, Jenny told us she was still looking for someone to actually lead the trip.

“I think you’d be perfect for it,” she said, as she and Jay spoke over the phone.

We hadn’t thought about the responsibility that comes with leading such a trip, but we also knew God works in very mysterious ways. Everything happens for a reason. If being a leader was what she was asking from us, then who were we to turn her down?

We spent the next six months preparing for our trip. We were headed to a tiny village two hours north of Nairobi called Kiu. When the word spread that there was a missions trip to Africa, several local families reached out to express their interest in participating with us. We had the rare and fortunate opportunity to handpick the people we thought would comprise the very best team. After many hours of meetings and deliberations, we decided on six families who would join us on this journey, with a total of twenty-two of us altogether.

We planned to take our three oldest children—Ben, Bekah, and Abigail—with us. It was difficult to leave Noah, our youngest son, behind; but he was only four years old at the time, which we felt was too young to make this type of trip.

Working closely with 410 Bridge, we were able to assess exactly what the community we were going to serve wanted from our group so we could work together with the locals when we arrived. We discovered that these types of trips are highly organized. There was a tremendous amount of communication with the village prior to our arrival. After months of dialogue and preparation, the people in Kiu decided that our goal for the ten days we would be there was to build a chicken coop that would house twenty-five hundred chickens.

Undertaking this type of project had several benefits to the locals. First, it would provide a steady source of nourishment. Second, involving the locals meant there would be a common project aimed at getting their troubled youth off the streets. Third, building the chicken coop would provide them with some sort of a business enterprise so they could sell the eggs and, eventually, the chickens.

As the mission trip grew closer, we tried to imagine the journey that was ahead. We counted our blessings for the opportunity we had—not just ours, but also for the experience we were about to give to our children.

When we first signed up for the trip, we thought our group would go to Kiu and help the people with their project in a tangible way while building some new relationships. This experience was the first time we realized the importance of working alongside a community instead of coming in and imposing on them what we think or how we live.

The people from 410 Bridge did an excellent job preparing us for the trip. They gave us a very strict list of dos and don’ts so we didn’t make any colossal errors in judgment. They explained to us that no matter how badly we desired to make things better for the people we were about to meet, our mission was to go in and build a chicken coop—working alongside and developing relationships with the African people.

They told us not to give the children shoes because their feet had toughened up from years of surviving barefoot. Once they start to wear shoes, their feet can no longer take the extreme conditions because they soften up. What we would have perceived as doing something to help them would actually hurt them in the long run.

Helping them adjust to our contemporary lifestyle wasn’t the reason we were there. Our Western mentality and mindset is to fix things, throw money at the problem until it is no longer of concern, and basically make it all better. It’s hard to come up with a solution when we don’t necessarily have a full understanding of the problem or their way of life. We quickly discovered that our way of thinking doesn’t solve their problems. Long-term change comes with time, perseverance, education, and dedication. The people we were endeavoring to meet had the same drive, initiative, desire, and ultimate goals we did but lacked the resources to facilitate those ideas. Helping provide those resources was the main purpose of our presence in their community.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones

22 Aug

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It)

David C. Cook (August 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Brian Jones is the senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley, an innovative community of faith in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Brian is a graduate of Cincinnati Christian University (B.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (M. Div.) and has served in leadership positions in churches for over twenty years. His humorous and raw style has made him a popular speaker for conferences, seminars, churches and retreats.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Recently, the media has ignited in a brimstone blaze of controversy over the question of Hell, and the idea that’s generating so much attention is that Hell isn’t real, and even if it were, a loving God wouldn’t possibly send people there. Is Hell real, or is it a concept that is misguided and out of place in today’s Christianity? Many believe the answer to this question will have profound implications on the future of the faith, and important personalities on both sides of this question are drawing lines in the sand.

If you would like to hear his sermon on Hell is Real, see video below…

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 272 pages

Publisher: David C. Cook (August 1, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0781405726

ISBN-13: 978-0781405720

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Eternal Damnation, Really?

The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there.

—H. Richard Niebuhr1

My three daughters know that I have one sacred, unbreakable rule when our family drives anywhere on vacation: If you have to go to the bathroom once we’re on the highway, you better have a Pringles can close by because we’re not stopping.

I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to small bladders, you have to exert martial law on the hole van. Otherwise you’ll spend half your vacation touring the country’s finest rest stops and eating twelve times the daily recommended allowance of pork rinds. In fact, after years of driving to remote vacation spots, I’ve learned four key principles for a successful road trip with kids: Keep ’em sleeping, keep ’em separated, keep ’em dehydrated, and keep ’em watching videos. If complaining erupts, I’ve also found it helpful to have memorized Bill Cosby’s classic line: “I brought you into this world; I can take you out!”2

There have been times, however, I’ve been tempted to break my own rules. For instance, I’ll never forget the time we drove from Dayton, Ohio, to Dallas. We had just stopped in Louisville to fill up, and after twenty minutes we had successfully emptied all the bladders, gotten situated with our snacks, and pulled back on the road heading toward the highway. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a plume of smoke rising from the rooftop of a small apartment complex. I looked for a chimney but saw none. I reassured myself that surely someone had already called 911 and everything would be fine.

Besides, I thought, I can’t even tell for sure if there’s a fire.

Yet something inside of me kept wondering, What if I’m the only person who is seeing this right now? As I approached the onramp I went back and forth in my head, Should we stop? Should we keep going? Should we stop? We don’t have time for this! But what if I’m the only person—I swerved to the left at the last second, drove past the onramp, and circled back into the apartment complex. My guilt (or basic human decency) had won out.

As I pulled up I discovered that it was in fact a fire, and by then the flames had engulfed a large part of the roof. Worse, my suspicion was accurate—we were the only ones there. I asked my wife, Lisa, to call 911, and then I ran inside to warn people to get out.

Once I reached the third floor, I frantically started to bang on the doors, one by one, but at each door there was no response. I then ran down to the second floor and did the same. As I was about to go down to the first floor, a shirtless young man with disheveled hair stuck his head out of one of the second-floor units. He cracked the door open, and as I ran back to meet him, I was hit with a wall of marijuana smoke.

“Yo, my man, what’s up?” he said with a slight grin.

“What’s up is that your apartment is about to burn to the ground. Put your joint down and help me get people out of here!”

We ran down the steps to the first floor. Two couples responded to our knocking. “There’s an elderly lady on the third floor!” one woman shouted. “Did you get her out?”

My heart sank. After racing back up to the third floor, we began furiously pounding on her door. The first-floor neighbor yelled, “She gets confused easily. We may have to break down the door.” But just as she said that the handle slowly began to turn. Coughing, confused, and minutes away from being consumed by the fire, she followed her neighbors down to safety. As we stepped out the front door, we heard sirens in the distance. After we guided the elderly woman into the hands of the paramedics, I turned around and watched the firemen storm up the apartment steps to stop the blaze.

As I stood there, the weight of it all hit me. I let out a deep sigh and thought to myself, What would have happened if I had kept driving?

A few hours later, when my adrenaline had finally worn down and the kids were asleep, a bizarre thought came out of nowhere. I call it a “thought” because to this day I’m still not sure if what popped into my mind came from God or from the triple stack of chocolate chip pancakes from IHOP digesting in my stomach. Here’s what came to my mind:

Let me get this straight: You’re willing to run into a

burning building to save someone’s life, but non-

Christians all around you are going to hell and you

don’t believe it, let alone lift a finger to help.

Admittedly, I was a little freaked out by the “thought,” but at the time I blew it off as a lingering remnant of my conservative-evangelical upbringing.

Four years prior to this event I had graduated from seminary, and with the endless boxes of books I lugged into the moving truck when I left, I also packed my watered-down theology, a healthy dose

of skepticism about biblical authority, and a nail-tight conviction that hell was a mythological concept that no loving and thinking Christian could accept. I had weighed the evidence, read all the books, and sat at the feet of experts for three years. Now the verdict was in—the Bible’s teaching about hell was inaccurate at best and hateful at worst. What I was taught as a child was a lie, and now that I was becoming a pastor, I was sure I’d never perpetuate that ridiculous myth again.

Objections to Hell

Undoubtedly, you’re a smart person. You like to read, and you were intrigued enough by the topic of hell and eternal damnation to give this book a go (either that or the bookstore didn’t have that Dan Brown novel you were looking for). And so I think you can understand the six good reasons it seemed ridiculous to me that God would send anyone to hell. Read through these objections and see if you resonate with how I felt.

1. Hell Is a Very Unpopular Idea

Hell has always been an unpopular concept, and for obvious reasons. According to a recent survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 59 percent of Americans believe in hell.3 That’s six out of ten people, a slight majority in any room. But another poll narrowed the question even more and discovered that “fewer than half of all Americans (43 percent) thought people go to heaven or hell depending on their actions on earth.”4 Furthermore, in twenty-five years of being a pastor, I would add that maybe three out of every ten Christians I’ve met truly believe people who die without becoming Christians go to hell.

The fact that so few people believe in hell made me wonder if it was about as factual as the lost city of Atlantis.

2. The Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime

To my post-seminary self, sending someone to hell for all eternity seemed tantamount to sending someone to death row for stealing a postage stamp. Enduring physical, emotional, and spiritual torture not just for a year, or ten years, or billions of years on end, but for all eternity—it just didn’t seem fair. In fact, it seemed hateful and absurd. Who would propose such a punishment on anyone for anything done in this life? Atheist William C. Easttom put it this way,

God says, “Do what you wish, but make the wrong

choice and you will be tortured for eternity in hell.”

That … would be akin to a man telling his girlfriend,

do what you wish, but if you choose to leave

me, I will track you down and blow your brains

out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath

and cry out for his imprisonment/execution.

When God says the same we call him “loving” and

build churches in his honor.5

When I looked at it from this vantage point, I understood why Tertullian, a well-known pastor in the early church, wrote, “We get ourselves laughed at for proclaiming that God will one day judge the world.”6 In eighteen hundred years that sentiment hasn’t really changed.

3. Life Is Hell Enough

The more I thought about the concept of eternal punishment, the more I kept thinking to myself, Don’t most people go through enough hell in one lifetime? Think about all the suffering people go through in this life. Hell just didn’t make any sense to me. One blogger does a fantastic job of illustrating this point:

Given life’s headaches, backaches, toothaches,

strains, scrapes, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, breaks,

PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, parasites,

viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness,

paralysis, retardation, deformities, ugliness, embarrassments,

miscommunications, confused signals,

ignorance, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom,

hard labor, repetitious labor, old age, accidents, fires,

floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes,

and volcanoes, I cannot see how anyone, after

they’re dead, deserves “eternal punishment” too.7

4. Hell Seems Intolerant and Hateful

One of the biggest things that weighed on me was how cruel and arrogant the concept of hell sounded when I talked about it with good friends of mine who weren’t Christians.

A friend once asked me, “How can you believe my great-grandparents who brutally suffered and died in the Holocaust won’t go to heaven just because they didn’t believe in Jesus? They were loving, God-fearing people.” I didn’t have a good answer, and the lack of an answer that sounded loving and moral troubled me immensely. The vast majority of people on this planet think that believing anyone—except people like Hitler who commit heinous crimes against humanity—would go to hell is arrogant, insensitive, ignorant, and hateful.

Victor Hugo wrote, “Hell is an outrage on humanity. When you tell me that your deity made you in his image, I reply that he must have been very ugly.”8 I had to agree. What kind of God would send

anyone to hell? I thought.

5. Respected Evangelical Scholars Reject the Idea of Hell

What troubled me even more was that everywhere I turned, noted Christian scholars confirmed my inner struggle. For instance, evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock wrote,

I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in

body and mind an outrageous doctrine.… How can

Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty

and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting

everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful

they may have been? Surely a God who would do

such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God.9

Statements like this made sense to me. Knowing that highly educated people like Pinnock and others thought this way gave me more confidence that it might be okay to veer away from my traditional

Christian beliefs if I chose to do so. If they veered from clear biblical teachings, why couldn’t I?

6. I Like Being Liked

Finally, truth be told, the need to be liked was a real factor in my personal struggle. I hated the fact that I could have friendships with people, but if I stayed true to my Christian beliefs, I felt like I had to spend all my time and energy trying to convert them. I wanted to embrace them, cherish their uniqueness, understand their beliefs, and celebrate our diverse cultural and religious upbringings. Hell was an affront to all of this. I didn’t want to be thought of as the nutty, intolerant guy who was always trying to get people to admit that they were sinners in need of a Savior. I wanted to be the cool, relevant, and intelligent pastor people liked and wanted their friends to know.

Do you resonate with any of those objections to hell?

An Unexpected Confrontation

The combined weight of the attacks by my professors and the sheer immorality of the idea itself finally broke the theological dam open for me. Over time I simply gave up on the idea, proudly. The problem was that believing the Bible is God’s Word is, well, up near the top of any pastor’s job description, at least in an evangelical church. I needed a job, so I came up with what seemed like a simple solution:

I would never tell anyone about my disbelief. In fact, I carried my secret around for four years after graduate school without ever telling anyone, not the people who went to my church, not the staff with whom I worked, not my friends, not even my wife. The secret was so well hidden that sometimes I was able to forget about it—until that apartment fire in Louisville, and then again a few months later at a monastery in northwest Ohio.

I was in the habit of going to a monastery roughly once a month for a spiritual retreat. I would arrive early in the day to pray, journal, take long walks in the woods, and leave late in the afternoon. On one such retreat I felt an overwhelming sense of spiritual pressure, the spiritual equivalent of the kind of pressure you feel in your ears when swimming in deep water. I sensed that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. For the better part of the day, I locked myself into a cold, cement-block room and asked God to show me the source of my consternation.

For the first three hours, I heard nothing—my prayers seemed as if they were bouncing off the ceiling. By noon I felt like I was starting to make a connection with God, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next, when I felt God’s Spirit impress upon my heart, “Brian, this charade has to end. You’re a pastor and your job is to teach people the Bible, but you don’t believe what you’re teaching. You don’t believe in hell.”

I was a little startled, so I picked up my Bible and did something I had up to that point discouraged people in my church from doing—I played what I call “Bible Roulette.” In his book Formula for a Burning Heart, A. W. Tozer said, “An honest man with an open Bible and a pad and pencil is sure to find out what is wrong with him very quickly.”10 I can attest to the truth of that statement.

I closed my eyes, wildly fanned the pages back and forth, and randomly pointed to passages and read them. The first passage was about eternal punishment. I looked up at the ceiling and said, “That’s a coincidence.” The second passage was about God’s wrath. This time I felt a little uneasy. Then I did it a third time and couldn’t believe my eyes—eternal punishment again. I’m not usually the most mystical person in the world, but I slowly closed the pages of my Bible, put it down on the table next to me, and said, “I get the message.” Church leaders must “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9), and hell is one of those “deep truths.”

I spent the next five hours reading and underlining every passage about hell in the New Testament, and as I did, I felt an overwhelming sense of conviction. What I discovered shocked me. I had always assumed that the Bible contained only a few scattered references to hell. I was wrong; hell is taught everywhere.

Take the book of Matthew, for instance, just one book among twenty-seven in the entire New Testament. Here is what we learn about hell from that book alone:

Twelve separate passages record Jesus’ teachings about the judgment of nonbelievers and their assignment to eternal punishment.11 Matthew 13:49–50 summarizes them all: “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus employed the most graphic language to describe what hell is like: fire (Matt. 5:22; 18:9); eternal fire (18:8); destruction (7:13); away from his presence (7:23); thrown outside (8:12; 22:13; 25:30); blazing furnace (13:42); darkness (22:13; 25:30); eternal punishment (25:46); weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51).

Jesus twice used the word eternal (18:8; 25:46) to convey that the punishment of nonbelievers would continue forever.

As I moved from the Gospels into the rest of the New Testament, I was struck by how the writers unashamedly addressed the issue. There is no hesitancy or apology in their words. The basic tone is,

“This is a reality. Now let’s get out there and tell people how to avoid it.” Second Thessalonians 1:7–9 summarizes what these other New Testament authors taught:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed

from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful

angels. He will punish those who do not know God

and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They

will be punished with everlasting destruction and

shut out from the presence of the Lord and from

the glory of his might.

My heart raced as I flipped page after page after page. I discovered, by the end of my study, that the New Testament’s teaching about hell is not an ambiguous topic supported by a few hard-to understand passages. It is inescapable: Virtually every book in the New Testament underscores some aspect of the reality of hell. Jesus taught it; Paul, Peter, and every early church leader taught it, but I wasn’t teaching it. I realized I had a decision to make. Could I discount what Jesus taught about hell if I based my belief in heaven on similar passages in the same books?

Could it be possible that Jesus’ disciples actually had some of the same reservations I had but still persisted in teaching it because they knew in the depths of their souls that hell was real? Wasn’t my hesitancy to believe in hell a sign of my compassion for people? Yet, if hell really exists, and I knew that but wasn’t willing to tell people how to avoid it, wouldn’t that also be the most extreme form of cruelty imaginable? Most of all, could it be that I was ultimately basing my acceptance of this teaching more on what people thought of me than on whether I felt it was intellectually plausible?

As the weight of it all finally set in, I dropped to my knees, stretched out my arms and legs to the sides, and fell prostrate on the unfinished concrete monastery floor. Not content, however, with the act of simply lying facedown, I shoved my face over and over against the concrete as if an invisible hand pushed against the base of my neck. I buried my face in the silence and wept. After an hour or so passed, I just couldn’t stomach listening to myself any longer. I stood up, gathered my belongings, and walked out of the monastery retreat house I had rented for the day. While my planning retreat certainly didn’t end quite like I thought it would, I left knowing exactly what I needed to do.

I drove straight home and met Lisa in our kitchen, sharing everything that had transpired from beginning to end, and then I begged for her forgiveness. Then I drove over to the church, gathered my staff, and did the same. Later that night at an emergency Leadership Team meeting, I walked our bewildered church overseers step-by-step through every detail of my secret. A few days later, standing before the church, I completely fell apart. Four long years of strategic rationalizing couldn’t protect me from the inevitable—my sin had indeed found me out.

Do you want to know what’s scary? When I confessed this, nobody really cared. In fact, the response from a man on my Leadership Team captured the response of just about everyone: “Oh, thank God. You really scared me,” he said. “I thought you called us together to tell us that you did something serious like have an affair.”

Want to know what’s even scarier? You probably agree with him.

I’ve shared that story hundreds of times over the last two decades, and each time I’ve always gotten the same reaction: “Let me get this straight—you started believing in hell again because you reread every passage in the New Testament that talked about hell and then fell on the ground and asked for forgiveness?”

When you put it that way, well, then yes, that’s exactly how it happened. But it wasn’t that simple. There was much more going on beneath the surface. Undergirding that experience were two foundational truths that I didn’t come to realize until much later.

Christians must repent of “sins of disbelief ” in the same way they repent of “sins of behavior.”

Most Christians I know think they need to ask God’s forgiveness only for things they do that are outside of God’s will for His followers. Did I lie today? I need to ask for forgiveness. Did I gossip? I need

to ask for forgiveness for that sin too. Did I take something that wasn’t mine? I’ll ask for forgiveness for that as well. Sins of disbelief are no different. 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.

Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

It’s life and doctrine—we can sin against God in both how we act and how we think. Both our actions and our thoughts should be under Christ’s control because both have the power to negatively impact our relationship with God and the spiritual walk of everyone around us. We can’t live our lives guided by the Word of God and then allow our minds to function differently. Scripture tells us to love the Lord our God with … what? All our hearts, souls, and minds! How we think is a reflection of our love for God. Don’t believe me? Reread the New Testament and notice how many times the phrase false teachers pops up. Then look at how ruthlessly Paul and other church leaders deal with false teaching.

Christians don’t think their way out of a faith crisis; they repent their way out of a faith crisis.

When it comes to leaving behind “sins of disbelief,” recapturing a biblically correct position regarding the reality of hell (and the fact that non-Christians will go there) is never accomplished by laying out all the evidence and weighing the options. It’s about obedience to Jesus Christ. At its core, believing in hell is an obedience issue, not a theological issue. Am I willing to trust Christ to forgive my sins? That’s an obedience issue. Am I also willing to trust what He says about heaven? Of course. He’s my Lord. If He says it, I believe it. Then why would the issue of hell be any different? As Oswald Chambers wrote,

The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not

intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific

knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but

if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches,

he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark

to me, then I may be sure there is something I will

not do.12

The fact of the matter is: Hell is real. Deciding whether or not hell exists isn’t an intellectual exercise; it’s a matter of eternal life or death. Of course I still have doubts about hell from time to time, but the point is my relationship with the risen Jesus supersedes all my doubts. The reality you and I need to grasp is that this is happening. Right now. On our watch. This is happening to friends and acquaintances of yours and mine who aren’t Christians. And you and I have one decision to make in this matter—are we going to keep on driving and pretend we know nothing, or are we going to turn around?

If you’re ready to slam on the brakes and do a 180, I’ll sit in the passenger’s seat and take that ride with you. I’ll help you understand why hell makes sense. I’ll also help you feel good about believing in the Bible—all of it. I’ll help you feel confident defending what you believe before your friends who lump you together with the crazy televangelists who make people want to throw up in their mouths. Together we’ll discover that believing what the Bible teaches regarding hell is logical, fair, and above all else—loving.

And finally, if you let me, I’ll also coach you on how you can have authentic conversations with your friends without getting creepy in the process. That’s really, really important. More on that later.

However, I have one tiny piece of advice: You might want to grab a Pringles can because we’re not stopping.

Notes

1. H. Richard Niebuhr, quoted in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 13–14.

2. Bill Cosby, “The Grandparents,” Himself (Motown, 1983), compact disc.

3. Greg Garrison, “Many Americans Don’t Believe in Hell, but What

about Pastors?” USA Today, August 1, 2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/

religion/2009-08-01-Hell-damnation_N.htm.

4. Christiane Wicker, “‘How Spiritual Are We?’ The PARADE Spirituality Poll,”

PARADE, October 4, 2009, 5.

5. William C. Easttom II, quoted in Gary Poole, How Could God Allow Suffering

and Evil? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 59.

6. Tertullian, The Apology, quoted in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson,

trans., Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 4:52.

7. Edward T. Babinski, “Hell and Heaven, and Satan, and Christian Superstition,”

October 22, 2005, http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/skepticism/heaven_hell.html.

8. Victor Hugo, quoted in Rufus K. Noyes, M.D., Views of Religion (Boston: L.K.

Washburn, 1906), 125.

9. Clark Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent,” Criswell

Theological Review 4 (1990): 246–47, 253, as quoted in Randy Alcorn, Heaven

(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 24–25.

10. A. W. Tozer, The Formula for a Burning Heart, quoted in Martin H. Manser,

compiler, The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations (Louisville, KY:

Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 363.

11. See Matthew 7:21–23; 8:12; 10:15, 33; 11:22–24; 12:41–42; 13:30, 40–43,

49–50; 24:50–51; 25:11–12, 29–46.

12. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (New York: Dodd, Mead &

Company, 1935), 209.

Copyright 2011 Brian Jones. Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) published by David C Cook.

Publisher permission required to reproduce in any format or quantity. All rights reserved.

FIRST Wild Card Tour + Review: Lazarus Awakening by Joanna Weaver

10 Jun

AMY’S REVIEW:

“We live in graveyards, filled with memories, wandering through life in perpetual mourning over the things we have down and the thing that have been done to us,” writes Joanna Weaver in her latest book, Lazarus Awakening: Find Your Place in the Heart of God. Highlighter in hand, this is one of the many passages I colored a fluorescent shade of yellow while reading this book. While I expected Lazarus Awakening to be a good read, since I enjoyed Weaver’s first book in the series, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, I didn’t expect it to rock me the way it did and I didn’t know I was living among the dead.

Weaver asks and answers tough questions about the character of God in her study about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, questions such as: Why did Jesus wait four days to visit Lazarus? (The short answer is because God’s glory is to be revealed. But the harder answer is—how could He break Mary and Martha’s hearts like that? Why did He put them through the pain?) Why did Jesus weep—didn’t He know that Lazarus was going to rise up from the dead? And what does any of this have to do with me?

Growing up in church, I’ve heard the stories about Jesus’ friendship with the Bethany siblings my whole life. I even remember coloring a picture of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to His every word while Martha was in the background setting the table. And after hearing the story of Lazarus a hundred times, the most interesting tidbit I could offer in Bible study discussions was that John 11:35 (“Jesus wept”) is the shortest verse in the New Testament, only rivaled in its brevity by Job 3:2 (“He said”). Sadly, a lifetime of Bible knowledge should produce deeper heart results. Beginning with a sermon by Andy Stanley, God started to show me that there was much to learn from the silent sibling’s story of death and resurrection—and my heart was penetrated more deeply by Lazarus Awakening.

I had many moments of revelation while digging into this passage, like when Weaver examines Jesus’ bold statement, “Lazarus, come forth!” Weaver says that Lazarus had a choice—he could remain in the tomb, a now living man amongst the dead or he could come out of the death chamber and live. When Lazarus does walk out of the tomb, he is still bound in his burial linens. Jesus instructs those around Lazarus to unbind the man—something that Weaver says Christians are still called to do today. We find others bound in addiction or heartache or mental illness, and God wants us to pull away the death clothes so that others may find life.

My most heart-wrenching moment came when Weaver discussed a story in Mark, which talks about a demoniac living in a graveyard. She says that at this time many outcasts lived this way—finding shelter in the vestibule between the burial chamber and tomb entrance. While these outcasts were not dead themselves, they lived among bones and decay. Weaver then asks—how many of us are living the same way? Oh, we’ve been saved from an eternal death by Jesus, but we’re not really living, are we? I, for one, have made a very comfortable home in my “midchamber,” keeping people away, keeping God away, and keeping life away. I’m going to Heaven, but I’m not living for God—not really.

Fortunately, Weaver doesn’t just reveal these problems, but offers guidance with insightful chapter inserts, information on additional resources, and even a well-developed small group Bible study. Honestly, I loved Lazarus Awakening, and will continue to refer to it as I fight against my graveyard living. It’s funny, really, because when the book first arrived in the mail, I thought, “Why did I sign up to review this book?” Now I know I needed to hear these words in my own life: “Amy, come forth!” Like aloe vera soothing sun-ravaged skin, Lazarus Awakening, has been a salve to my blistering soul.

The following contains more information on Lazarus Awakening, including the book’s first chapter. 

***

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Lazarus Awakening

WaterBrook Press (February 8, 2011)

***Special thanks to Lynette Kittle, Senior Publicist, WaterBrook Multnomah, a Division of Random House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


JOANNA WEAVER is the best-selling author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit, and the award-winning gift book With This Ring. Her articles have appeared in such publications as Focus on the Family, Guideposts, and HomeLife. Joanna and her pastor-husband, John, have three children and live in Montana.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Colorado Springs, Colo – In Lazarus Awakening (February 8, 2011) Joanna Weaver author of bestselling Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, helps prepare readers for the Easter celebration of Jesus death and resurrection, through her exploration of Lazarus death and resurrection.

Weaver explores the story of Jesus calling Lazarus forth to new life, and what that can mean to each one of us. How Jesus not only wanted to free Lazarus, but also free each person to live fully in the light of His love, unbound from the grave clothes of fear, regret, and self-condemnation.

She explores how it’s easier for us to believe that God so loved the world…but sometimes wonder if He truly loves us….

Combining unforgettable real-life illustrations with unexpected biblical insights, Weaver invites each of us to experience a spiritual resurrection this Easter that will forever change our understanding of what it means to be the one Jesus loves.

Includes 10-week Bible study (adaptable for 8 weeks) for both individual reflection and group discussion.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (February 8, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780307444967
ISBN-13: 978-0307444967
ASIN: 0307444961

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter 1: Tale of the Third Follower

It’s amazing that such a little space could make so much difference.
Just eighteen inches, give or take a few—that’s all it needs to move. And yet, for many of us, getting God’s love from our heads to our hearts may be the most difficult—yet the most important—thing we ever accomplish.
“I need to talk,” Lisa whispered in my ear one day after women’s Bible study. A committed Christian with a deep passion for the Lord, my friend had tears pooling in her dark eyes as we found a quiet corner where we could talk.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said, shaking her head as she looked down at her feet. “I could go to the worst criminal or a drug addict living on the street, and I could look him in the eye and tell him, ‘Jesus loves you!’ and mean it from the bottom of my heart.
“But, Joanna,” she said, gripping my hand, “I can’t seem to look in the mirror and convince myself.”
Her words were familiar to me. I’d felt that same terrible disconnect early in my walk with the Lord. Hoping He loved me but never really knowing for sure. Sadly, I’ve heard the same lonely detachment echoed by hundreds of women I’ve talked to around the country. Beautiful women. Plain women. Talented and not-so-talented women. Strong Christian women, deep in the Word and active in their church, as well as women brand new to their faith. Personal attributes or IQs seem to matter little. Whether they were raised in a loving home or an abusive situation, it doesn’t seem to change what one friend calls an epidemic among Christian women (and many men as well): a barren heart condition I call love-doubt.
“Jesus loves me—this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”(1) Many of us have sung the song since we were children. But do we really believe it? Or has Christ’s love remained more of a fairy tale than a reality we’ve experienced for ourselves in the only place we can really know for sure?
Our hearts.

He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not

You would think after accepting Christ at a young age and being raised in a loving Christian home with a loving, gracious father, I would have been convinced from the beginning that my heavenly Father loved me.
Me. With all my faults and failures. My silly stubbornness and pride.
But those very things kept me from really knowing Christ’s love for the majority of my early adult life. There was just so much to dislike, so much to disapprove of. How could God possibly love me? Even I wasn’t that crazy about me.
For some reason, I’d come to see God as distant and somewhat removed. Rather than transposing upon God the model of my earthly father’s balanced love—both unconditional yet corrective—I saw my heavenly Father as a stern teacher with a yardstick in His hand, pacing up and down the classroom of my life as He looked for any and all infractions. Measuring me against what sometimes felt like impossible standards and occasionally slapping me when I failed to make the grade.
Yes, He loved me, I supposed. At least that’s what I’d been taught. But I didn’t always feel God’s love. Most of the time I lived in fear of the yardstick. Who knew when His judgment would snap down its disapproval, leaving a nasty mark on my heart as well as my soul?
As a result, I lived the first three decades of my life like an insecure adolescent, forever picking daisies and tearing them apart, never stopping to enjoy their beauty. He loves me, He loves me not, I would say subconsciously, plucking a petal as I weighed my behavior and attitudes against what the Bible said I should be.
Powerful church services and sweet altar times. Ah, I felt secure in His love. Real life and less-than-sweet responses? I felt lost and all alone. Unfortunately, all I got from constantly questioning God’s love was a fearful heart and a pile of torn, wilted petals. My overzealous self-analysis never brought the peace I longed for.
Because the peace you and I were created for doesn’t come from picking daisies. It only comes from a living relationship with a loving God.

The Tale of the Third Follower

I never planned on writing a trilogy about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the siblings from Bethany that we meet in Luke’s and John’s gospels. In fact, when I wrote Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, I was fairly certain it was the one and only book to be found in those verses. But God surprised me six years later, and Having a Mary Spirit was born.
The thought that there might be a third book never crossed my mind until I shared an interesting premise with a few friends who are writers. It was a teaching point I’d hoped to fit into Having a Mary Spirit but never quite found room.
“We all know Jesus loved Mary,” I told my friends. “After all, look how she worshiped. And we can even understand how Jesus loved Martha. Look how she served. But what about those of us who don’t know where we fit in the heart of God?”
The question hung in the air before I continued.
“The only thing of significance that Lazarus did was die. And yet when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, they said, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ ”
Somehow my words seemed to have extra weight as they floated between us. Extra importance. Even I felt their impact.
After a few moments my friend Wendy broke the silence. “That part of the story didn’t make it into the book because it is a book.”
I can’t adequately explain what happened when she said those words, except to say it was as though a giant bell began to sound in my soul. Its reverberations sent shock waves through my body as I tried to change the subject.
The thing is, I didn’t want to write about Lazarus. I wanted to write a different book. I was ready to move on, to explore other subjects.
But God wouldn’t let me. And so you hold this book in your hands.

A Place to Call Home

We first meet the family from Bethany in Luke 10:38–42. Or rather we meet part of the family—two followers of Jesus named Martha and Mary.
You’re probably familiar with the story Luke tells. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for one of the great Jewish feasts when Martha came out to meet Him with an invitation to dinner. But while Martha opened her home, it was her sister, Mary, who opened her heart. To put the story in a nutshell: Mary worshiped. Martha complained. Jesus rebuked. And lives were changed.(2)
Strangely, Luke’s account never even mentions Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus. Perhaps he wasn’t home when Martha held her dinner party. Perhaps he was away on business. Or perhaps he was there all the time but no one really noticed.
Some people are like that. They have perfected the art of invisibility. Experts at fading into the background, they go out of their way not to attract attention, and when they get noticed, they feel great discomfort.
Of course, I have no way of knowing if this was true of Lazarus. Scripture doesn’t give any information as to who he was or what he was like—only that he lived in Bethany and had two sisters. When we finally meet him, in John 11, it is an odd introduction—for it starts with a 911 call that leads to a funeral:

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”.…
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.…
…“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept. (John 11:1–7, 17, 34–35)

What a tender story. A story filled with emotion and dramatic tension. The story of two sisters torn by grief and a Savior who loved them yet chose to tarry.
Of course, there is more to it—more truths we’ll discover as we walk through the forty-four verses John devotes to this tale. For the story of Lazarus is also the story of Jesus’s greatest miracle: that of awakening His friend from the dead. (To read the whole story all at once, see Appendix A: “The Story.”)
Have you noticed that when Jesus comes on the scene, what seems to be the end is rarely the end? In fact, it’s nearly always a new beginning.
But Mary and Martha didn’t know that at the time. And I’m prone to forget it as well.
Questions and disappointments, sorrow and fear tend to block out the bigger picture in situations like the one we see in Bethany. What do we do when God doesn’t come through the way we hoped He would? What should we feel when what is dearest to our hearts is suddenly snatched away? How do we reconcile the love of God with the disappointments we face in life?
Such questions don’t have easy answers. However, in this story of Jesus’s three friends, I believe we can find clues to help us navigate the unknown and the tragic when we encounter them in our own lives. Tips to help us live in the meantime—that cruel in-between time when we are waiting for God to act—as well as insights to help us trust Him when He doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all.
But most important, I believe the story of Lazarus reveals the scandalous availability of God’s love if we will only reach out and accept it. Even when we don’t deserve it. Even when life is hard and we don’t understand.
For God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, Isaiah 55:8–9 tells us. He knows what He’s doing.
Even when we can’t figure out His math.

Algebra and Me

Arithmetic was always one of my favorite subjects in grade school, one I excelled at. Of course, that was in the last century, before they started introducing algebra in the fourth grade. In my post–Leave It to Beaver, yet very serene, childhood, the only equations that wrinkled my nine-year-old forehead were fairly straightforward:

2 + 2 = 4
19 − 7 = 12

Of course, fourth-grade math was more difficult than that. But the basic addition and subtraction skills I’d learned in first and second grade helped me tackle the multiplication and division problems of third and fourth grade with confidence. By the time I reached sixth grade, I was fairly proficient with complicated columns of sums and had pretty much conquered the mysterious world of fractions. I was amazing—a math whiz.
But then eighth grade dawned and, with it, a very brief introduction to algebra. It all seemed quite silly to me. Who cared what the y factor was? And why on earth would I ever need to know what x + y + z equaled?
When my teacher gave us a high-school placement math exam that spring, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out the answers—mainly because I had no idea how, and when I tried, it made my head hurt. Instead, when I encountered a difficult problem during the test, I did what had always worked for me: I looked for a pattern in the answers.
Allowing my mind to back up a bit and my eyes to go a little fuzzy, I’d stare at all those little ovals I’d so neatly darkened in with my number-two pencil until I could see a pattern. I haven’t filled in a D for a while. Or, There were two Bs and then two Cs and one A, so obviously this must be another A.
I was amazing at this too.
No, really, I was. Several weeks later when we received the results of our testing, I had been placed not in bonehead math, not even in beginning algebra. No, it was accelerated algebra for me, though I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.
To this day I still don’t. My algebraic cluelessness has followed me through adulthood and on into parenting. My kids can ask an English question, quiz me on history or government, and I can usually give them an answer or at least help them find one. But when it comes to algebra or geometry or calculus or any of those other advanced math classes invented by some sick, twisted Einstein wannabe…well, they’d better go ask their dad.
Advanced mathematics remains a complete mystery to me. The unknown factors seem so haphazard. What if z/y squared doesn’t equal nine? What then?
The unknown factors frustrate us in life’s story problems as well—and there are plenty of those in John 11. How are we to compute the fact that Jesus stayed where He was rather than rushing to Lazarus’s side when He heard His friend was ill? How do we reconcile Jesus’s allowing Mary and Martha to walk through so much pain when He could have prevented it in the first place?
Difficult questions, without a doubt. But there is a foundational truth in this passage we must first acknowledge before we can tackle the tougher issues.
“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5, emphasis added).
Jesus loves you and me as well. He loves us just as we are—apart from our Martha works and Mary worship. He even loves those of us who come empty-handed, feeling dead inside and perhaps a little bound.
For while it may not add up in our human calculations, the truth of God’s love lies at the heart of the gospel. “While we were still sinners,” Romans 5:8 tells us, “Christ died for us.” We may not be able to do the math ourselves or reason out such amazing grace, but if we’ll simply ask, our heavenly Father longs to help us find the bottom line.

The Lazarus Factor

I’ve always told my husband, John, that he has to die before I do—mainly because I don’t want him remarrying some wonderful woman and finding out what he’s missed all these years. But then again, if he were to go first, I’m convinced I’d face financial ruin in two months. It’s not because John hasn’t taken very good care of us financially but because I absolutely hate balancing checkbooks.
My idea of reconciling my checking account is to call a very nice lady named Rhonda at our bank. She graciously lets me know the bottom line whenever I’m a little leery of where I stand.
Now, I know this isn’t a wise way to handle fiscal matters. In fact, you CPAs reading this are about to faint if you haven’t already thrown the book across the room. But, hey, it works for me.
Most of the time.
Okay, so there have been a few blips in my system. But I’m coming to believe that while this may not be such a great method in the natural realm, it may be the only way to go in the spiritual.
After spending the greater part of my life trying to make everything add up on my own—that is, trying to make sure my good outweighed my bad so I was never overdrawn but was continually making deposits in my righteousness bank—I finally realized that nothing I did could ever be enough. No matter how hard I tried, I constantly lived under the weight of my own disapproval. Which, of course, instantly mutated into a sense that God was coldly disappointed with me as well.
He loves me not…
Keeping my own spiritual books has never added up to anything but guilt and condemnation and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I’m so glad God’s math isn’t like mine. And oh how I rejoice that He doesn’t demand I come up with the correct answer before He makes me His child. Because when I couldn’t make it up to Him, Jesus came down to me. And through His precious blood sacrifice, He made a way for me to come not only into His presence but directly into the heart of God.
“All of this is a gift from God,” 2 Corinthians 5:18–19 tells us, “who brought us back to himself through Christ.… no longer counting people’s sins against them” (NLT).

Breaking the Yardstick

I don’t think we can begin to imagine how radical Christ’s New Testament message of grace sounded to a people who had been living under the Law for thousands of years. The thought that there might be a different way to approach God—a better way—was appealing to some Jews but threatening to many others.
For those who kept stumbling over the rules and regulations set up by the religious elite—never quite measuring up to the yardstick of the Law—the idea that God might love them apart from what they did must have been incredibly liberating.
But for the Jewish hierarchy who had mastered the Law and felt quite proud of it, Jesus’s words surely posed a threat. His message pierced their religious facades, revealing the darkness of their hearts and, quite frankly, making them mad. Rather than running to the grace and forgiveness He offered, they kept defaulting to the yardstick—using it to justify themselves one minute, wielding it as a weapon against Jesus the next.*
“You come from Nazareth?” they said, pointing the yardstick. “Nothing good comes from Nazareth.” That’s one whack for you. “You eat with tax collectors and sinners? That’s even worse.” Whack, whack. “You heal on the Sabbath?” they screamed, waving their rules and regulations. Off with Your head!
The Sadducees and Pharisees had no room in their religion for freedom. As a result, they had no room for Christ. They were people of the yardstick. Even though Jesus kept insisting He hadn’t come to “abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17), they just wouldn’t listen. Like little children they plugged their ears and kept singing the same old tune, though a New Song had been sent from heaven.
Which is so very sad. Especially when you consider that the very Law they were so zealous for had been intended to prepare them for the Messiah rather than keep them from acknowledging Him.
After all, God established His original covenant with Abraham long before He gave Moses the Law—430 years before, to be exact (Galatians 3:17). The love the Father extended to Abraham and to all those who came after him had no strings attached. It was based on the recipient’s acceptance of grace from beginning to end.
But somehow Israel fell in love with the Law rather than in love with their God. And we are in danger of doing the same thing. Exalting rules as the pathway to heaven. Embracing formulas as our salvation. Worshiping our own willpower rather than allowing the power of God to work in us to transform our lives.(5)
Such self-induced holiness didn’t work for the Jews, and it doesn’t work for us. That’s why Jesus had to come.
The Law had originally been given “to show people their sins,” Galatians 3:19 tells us. But it was “designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (NLT). Though the yardstick of the Law helped keep us in line, it was never intended to save us. Only Christ could do that. And oh may I tell you how that comforts my soul?
I’ll never forget the day I handed Jesus my yardstick. I had been saved since childhood, but I was almost thirty before the message of grace finally made the trip from my head to my heart, setting me “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). As the light of the good news finally penetrated the darkness of my self-condemning mind, the “perfect love” 1 John 4:18 speaks of finally drove out my fear, which had always been rooted in fear of punishment.
When I finally laid down my Pharisee pride and admitted that in myself I would never be—could never be—enough, I experienced a breakthrough that has radically changed my life. For as I surrendered my yardstick—the tool of comparison that had caused so much mental torment and a sense of separation from God—Jesus took it from my hands. Then, with a look of great love, He broke it over His knee and turned it into a cross, reminding me that He died so I wouldn’t have to.
That the punishment I so fully deserve has already been paid for.
That the way has been made for everyone who will believe in Jesus not only to come to Him but to come back home to the heart of God.

A Place to Lay Our Hearts

From the moment God so kindly exploded the concept of this book in my soul, I’ve had just one prayer. It is the prayer Paul prayed for all believers in Ephesians 3:17–19:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I believe that everything we were made for and everything we’ve ever wanted is found in these three little verses. But in order to appropriate the all-encompassing love of God, we must give up our obsession with formulas and yardsticks. But how do we do that? Paul’s prayer reveals an important key: “that you…may have power…to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (emphasis added).
The marvelous incongruity of that statement hit me several years ago. “Wait, Lord! How can I know something that surpasses knowledge?” I asked.
His answer came sweet and low to my spirit. You have to stop trying to understand it and start accepting it, Joanna. Just let Me love you.
For the reality is, no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to explain or deserve such amazing grace and incredible love. Nor can we escape it.
It’s just too wide, Ephesians 3:18 tells us. We can’t get around it.
It’s just too high. We can’t get over it.
It’s so long we’ll never be able to outrun it.
And it’s so deep we’ll never be able to exhaust it.
Bottom line: You can’t get away from God’s love no matter how hard you try. Because He’s pursuing you, my friend. Maybe it’s time to stop running away from love and start running toward it.
Even if, at times, it seems too good to be true.

Are You Willing to Be Loved?

I don’t know why Jesus chose me to love. Really, I don’t. Perhaps you don’t understand why He chose you. But He did. Really, He did. Until we get around to accepting His amazing, undeserved favor, I fear we will miss everything a relationship with Christ really means.
When my husband proposed to me so many years ago, I didn’t say, “Wait a minute, John. Do you have any idea what you’re getting into?” I didn’t pull out a list of reasons why he couldn’t possibly love me or a rap sheet detailing my inadequacies to prove why he shouldn’t—although there were and are many.
No way! I just threw my arms open wide and accepted his love. I would have been a fool to turn down an offer like that.
I wonder what would happen in our lives if we stopped resisting God’s love and started receiving it. What if we stopped trying to do the math, stopped striving to earn His favor? What if we just accepted the altogether-too-good-to-be-true news that the yardstick has been broken and the Cross has opened a door to intimacy with our Maker?
For if we are ever to be His beloved, we must be willing to be loved.
Simple, huh? And yet oh so hard. Like my friend Lisa, many of us are plagued by love-doubt. We have hidden tombs yet to be opened. Dark secrets that keep us hanging back. Soul-sicknesses that have left us crippled and embittered by our inability to forgive or forget. Graveclothes that keep tripping us up and fears that hold us back from believing the good news could ever be true for people like us.
I wonder…
Maybe it’s time to look in the mirror and start witnessing to ourselves.
Maybe it’s time we stop living by what we feel and start proclaiming what our spirits already know: “I have been chosen by God. Whether I feel loved or believe I deserve it, from this moment on I choose to be loved.”
Say it out loud: “I choose to be loved.”
You may have to force yourself to say the words. Today your emotions may not correspond with what you’ve just declared. It is likely you may have to repeat the same words tomorrow. And do it again the next day. And the next.
But I promise that as you start appropriating what God has already declared as truth, something’s going to shift in the heavenly regions. More important, something’s going to shift in you.
So say those words as many times as you need to…until the message gets through your thick head to your newly tender heart. Until you finally come to believe what’s been true all along.
Shh…listen. Do you hear it?
It’s Love.
And He’s calling your name.

* Please let me tell you how much I love the nation of Israel. I fully believe they are the chosen people of God and a precious family into which I have been adopted. When I speak of the spiritual pride and blindness of the religious hierarchy of Jesus’s day, it is not to condemn the Jews. Instead, I see my own tendency—and the tendency of the body of Christ today—to fall into spiritual pride and blindness when we love our “form of godliness” but miss “the power thereof ” (2 Timothy 3:5, KJV).

Excerpted from Lazarus Awakening by Joanna Weaver Copyright © 2011 by Joanna Weaver. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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