Friday, May 22, 2020

Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clark

As biblical values crumble in our surrounding society, how should Christians respond? The natural reaction is fear, but Elliot Clark writes, Instead of whining and feeling sorry for ourselves because the culture is becoming unrecognizable, Christians should align their vision with that of first-century Christians. If opposition mounts to the place where it can be rightly called persecution, we are called to follow the apostles, who left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the disgrace of the name. (Acts 5:41)

In Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land, Clark walks the reader through the book of 1 Peter which teaches that suffering and social exclusion are actually the most normal thing in the world…. The Christian in exile is called to embrace the shame and social humiliation that come as a package deal with the cross. We’re to be first and foremost God-pleasers and not man-pleasers.

In Chapter Five he writes about an aspect of Christian living that is often ignored in modern circles – the need for holy lives. Holiness is not only the result of conversion, it’s also an embodied argument in support of the gospel’s veracity. Gospel declaration is linked to life transformation. But in America Christians think the gospel is more credible to others when they see us as most like them. We’ve come to believe that God is most glorified and people are most evangelized when the church is either hip and trendy or when it’s struggling, broken and weakNow is not the time for us to try to make the Christian message fit into the world’s mold. We should keep Christianity weird. And in so doing, we just might reach our neighbors. (!)

As hopes diminish and fears increase, as opponents rise to power and our cultural influence fades, as we become outcasts and even refugees – it’s then, at this very moment, that the church will have an incredible opportunity for the gospel. (This is also one of Rod Dreher's main points in The Benedict Option.) 

Clark offers a lot of food for thought in these pages. Most books about evangelism tend to say, “Do it this way and you’ll have success.” I appreciated Clark’s approach because his own experiences as a missionary in a Muslim country taught him there is no “one-size-fits-all” method. My only quibble is that he emphasizes witnessing out of fear (awe) of God and fear of the other’s eternal damnation. I prefer LOVE as motivation because it overcomes the other fears that Clark so eloquently describes in his book.


Friday, May 15, 2020

The Power of the Blood of Jesus by Andrew Murray

Of my top ten Christian classics, three titles are by Andrew Murray so I was prepared to enjoy The Power of the Blood of Jesus. Still, it was more theologically dense than some of his other books. 

One of Murray’s most helpful insights was on the holiness of God. We often think only of its negative aspect, i.e., that He hates sin. But Murray points out that the positive side of His holiness is that He is good, loves goodness and wants to make us good (holy). Holiness, as we wrongfully understand it, is the priggish keeping of rules. But to Murray Holiness is a disposition in entire agreement with that of God, which chooses in all things to will as God wills. It is nothing more than oneness with God, effected by intimacy with Him.   

Chapter 8 had a helpful explanation of Christ’s words in John 6:53 (“Drink my blood”). It’s hard enough to wrap our modern sensibilities around the idea of being “washed in the blood,” but the admonition to drink it is mind-boggling. Murray simplifies the idea by using water as an example. Water cleanses outwardly, but to be life-giving, it must be imbibed. Without drinking the blood of the Son of God – i.e., without hearty appropriation of it – eternal life cannot be obtained. Not only must the blood do something for us by placing us in a new relationship with God (forgiveness), but it must also do something in us (cleansing), entirely renewing us within.

He who “drinks” the blood of Jesus, receives Christ’s eternal, abundant life into himself. Only as we allow Him to fill us with Himself can we live the Christian life. This is the resounding theme of all of Murray’s books - the fruitfulness of a life completely surrendered to Christ.

If you are new to Murray, I would suggest either Humility (free for Kindle) or The True Vine to introduce you to these important ideas. But if you are ready for something a little meatier, The Power of the Blood of Jesus (free at the moment) will certainly stretch your thinking.  


Friday, May 1, 2020

What I Read and Watched in April

Though I'm still in a stress-induced brain fog, I managed to read several classics this month. I tried to listen to an audio version of Bambi, but disliked it so much that I gave it up halfway through (review here). My Antonia by Willa Cather, on the other hand, was an excellent audio book. Another book that was surprisingly good was The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. I read a few poems a day and found consolation in their beauty. Persuasion by Jane Austen was a perfect comfort read.

My Christian non-fiction for the month was Affliction by Edith Schaeffer, which was a solid, sensible look at suffering. (reviewed here) There's never any fluff with Edith Schaeffer.

My biggest disappointment was Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (reviewed here) because I loved her book, Beauty, so much.

As far as movies go, I watched Across the Pacific with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor because I had heard the banter was witty. It was filmed in 1942 and Japanese stereotypes are rampant, but the repartee between the protagonists was perfect. I also watched the 1971 BBC version of Persuasion after reading the book. The hairstyles and dress were dated, but I thought the actress who played Anne was lovely. She was beautiful but had lost the bloom of youth (just as Anne is described in the novel).

We watched the first season of VidAngel's series on the life of Christ called The Chosen. My husband and I are such biblical purists that we thought we'd hate it. But it was actually very well done and we enjoyed it. I liked the series, but I LOVED the pilot, The Shepherd, which is available on YouTube.

Did you have a favorite book or movie this month?


Friday, April 24, 2020

Twenty Vintage Classics that are Free for Kindle

Hundreds of vintage authors have not stood the test of time because they are overly sentimental or their writing lacks literary quality. You can read most of them for free on your Kindle, but which ones are worth your time? Here are twenty of my favorites titles.

General Titles
Penny Plain by O. Douglas is a charming domestic drama set in Scotland in the 1920's.
Fair Harbor by Joseph Crosby Lincoln. In the midst of gossiping busy-bodies, bickering lovers, and money-grabbing scoundrels, stands Captain Kendrick, a man of sterling character who is eager to do what is right even at the cost of his own happiness. 
Lilac Girl by Ralph Henry Barbour is a sweet, non-syrupy romance with some fun humor woven in.
The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne by Kathleen Thompson Norris is much more than a romance. It's a treatise on the value of motherhood.
Dandelion Cottage by Caroll Watson Rankin is a lovely story of 4 little girls, similar to the Betsy-Tacy books.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (a few of her other titles are free)
Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Three books in the Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott (some of her other titles are also free.)

Cozy Mysteries
Father Brown mysteries by G.K. Chesterton
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Arsene Lupin by Maurice LeBlanc (French gentleman thief)
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Lady Audley's Secret by (A Victorian page turner)
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (the first of four spy novels)
The Woman in Black by E.C. Bentley

Unfortunately Amazon charges for the most popular vintage authors (Rumer Godden, Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Goudge, D.E. Stevenson, Miss Read). Some, like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have only their less famous titles for free. Another of my favorite vintage story-tellers is James Hilton, but his cheapest (and most famous) book is 99 cents.

I hope you find a comforting book in these days of self-quarantine. The book of Psalms has been a source of solace for me, but I have enjoyed some escapist fiction as well.

 (All of these books were free at the time of this posting. Please let me know if you find a discrepancy.)


Friday, April 17, 2020

Persuasion by Jane Austen

It's been over thirty years since I read a print copy of Jane Austen's Persuasion. In fact, when I read it in 1988, I didn't like Anne who seemed like too much of a doormat; when I watched the 1995 film with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, I saw Anne in a completely different light. Since then I've listened to the audio version two or three times. Now thirty years later I revisited the actual book and loved it unequivocally. I laughed out loud at Mary's overgrown sense of importance. I relished each carefully crafted sentence. I agonized over Anne's losses. And I identified with her in a new way. She and I are both #2 on the Enneagram! Please beware of spoilers throughout this post.

The title of the book took on much more depth this time through. It not only refers to Anne who had been influenced to give up Wentworth as a young girl but also to Louisa Musgrove. Louisa declares she could never be persuaded to give up the man she loves, but later proves that implacability can be the same as pigheadedness. Even Wentworth admits that he was persuaded (by his own pride) to give up Anne too easily. The nuances of persuasion are noted in Anne's reflections after Louisa's accident. She is sitting next to Wentworth and wonders whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favor of happiness as a very resolute character. Later Austen writes of the necessity of distinguishing between steadfastness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will. In the end we find in Anne the perfect mingling of fortitude with gentleness.

Chapter 23 is pure literary comfort food as Anne and Harville debate over who is more faithful in unrequited love: men or women? And then there's THE LETTER from Wentworth to Anne. As Austen herself wrote, Such a letter was not soon to be recovered from.

If you haven't read this Austen title yet, please rush right out go online and get a copy. Preferably a hard copy that you can read, re-read and underline at your leisure.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Affliction by Edith Schaeffer

While searching for my daily dose of non-fiction, Edith Schaeffer's Affliction seemed like an appropriate choice. With the whole world in crisis mode, I knew her calm voice and clear thinking would strengthen and encourage my heart.

She begins abruptly by talking about the ugliness of death. It should not be taken as a normal, beautiful "release," but as an enemy which separates body from spirit and human beings from each other. This is the beauty of Schaeffer. She never softens the truth. But she wisely guides her readers into a deeper understanding of it. Her main argument is that there are two victories connected with suffering: victory FROM it and victory IN it. She gives many examples of those who have been delivered miraculously from pain and many other examples of those who demonstrated peace and faith even when their prayers were not answered. Scripture references are woven throughout.

She wrote, We have had individuals come to us who have been crushed and discouraged to an extreme because of being mistakenly taught that the criterion of being in the Lord's will is to have everything go well - with no shocks and disappointments. But the Bible teaches that affliction is an expected part of the lives of God's people.

Chapter Eleven, called "Aborting Affliction," packs a powerful punch as Schaeffer deals with the increasingly common idea that if we don't want to be troubled with something, we can just make it go away. This could be an unwanted baby, a disappointing spouse, or an aging relative. She concludes, If affliction and tribulation are to be aborted, then patience, steadfastness, experience and hope are also aborted.... When can love be patient and longsuffering if there aren't any concrete opportunities?

I must admit that although I liked this book very much, I found it difficult to finish. You'd think that the Covid-19 quarantine would be a book-loving introvert's dream come true, but the underlying stress of living in a world on pause has made it more difficult to concentrate. I save my sharpest mental moments - in the early morning - to pray, sing hymns and read scripture. During the rest of the day, I have to force myself sit down with a book. But this book made me glad I made the effort.


P.S. I noticed this was free for Kindle Unlimited if you (like me) keep a running list of books to read when a KU deal comes up (usually at the end of the year.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Ten years ago I read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather and was underwhelmed. Several readers encouraged me to try My Ántonia. They also encouraged me to change my expectations and treat Cather's books less like novels and more like gorgeous word pictures of the American West. Their advice helped to make my second Cather title a rich experience.

Jim Burden is a ten year old orphan who moves to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. He meets a a family of Czech immigrants and forms a lifelong friendship with their daughter, Ántonia. Cather weaves together stories about Jim and "Tony's" families, adding in anecdotes of other settlers. Although Jim loves Ántonia, it is a many-faceted attachment (rather than just romantic attraction). Even when she marries, Jim continues to care deeply about her.

In addition to her powerful story-telling, Cather has a gift for fresh, lyrical prose. Jim describes the enthusiasm of a girl he took to a play: Everything was wonderful to her, and everything was true. It was like going to revival meetings with someone who was always being converted.

Near the end of the book, he meets Ántonia and sees that she has been battered by life. I was thinking, as I watched her, how little it mattered. I know so many women who have kept all things that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded. Whatever else was gone, Ántonia had not lost the fire of life. She could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning of common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crabtree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting.

And this description: The rains had made channels of the wheel-ruts and washed them so deep that the sod had never healed over them. They looked like gashes torn by a grizzly's claws.

No, this is not a typical novel with plot twists and happy endings, but it was very satisfying to visit the Old West, to catch a glimpse of some of its first settlers, and to savor their beautifully-told story.


P.S. I listened to this via Audible's free quarantine downloads, but I see that YouTube has quite a few audio versions of it. It's also available via Kindle Free.