Friday, July 12, 2019

Be Free by Warren Wiersbe (Commentary on Galatians)

Since we don't have to "do" anything to earn salvation, how do we avoid erring on the side of complacency or mediocrity in our Christian walk? What exactly are we free to do and how can we be sure our freedom doesn't lead to licentiousness? Warren Wiersbe sets out to answer these questions in Be Free, his user-friendly commentary on the book of Galatians.

I've read a dozen of Wiersbe's commentaries on the Bible and while they were all excellent, this one stands out above the others. This may be because I spent many years of my Christian life trusting in outward actions to measure my spiritual maturity. I was a legalist with a capital "L."

Wiersbe writes, What is it about legalism that can so fascinate the Christian the he will turn from Grace to the law? For one thing, legalism appeals to the flesh. The flesh loves to boast about its religious achievements. The person who depends on religiosity can measure himself and compare himself with others.

I loved it when he cited F.D.R.'s four freedoms (of speech, of religion, from want and from fear) and added a fifth freedom: freedom from sin and self. Only those who deliberately misread Bible verses about grace will use them to validate sinful choices. Liberty does not mean license, says Wiersbe. Rather it means the freedom in Christ to enjoy Him and to become what He has determined for us to become. It is not only freedom to do, but also freedom not to do. We are no longer in bondage to sin.
But can Christians take this whole freedom thing too far?? Not according to Wiersbe: No man could become a rebel who depends on God's grace, yields to God's Spirit, lives for others, and seeks to glorify God.

As I read through the book of Galatians, using the comments in Be Free, I said many a "hallelujah" for the Lord's kindness in bringing me from a works-based faith to a faith that is dependent on His mercy. I still slip up sometimes, but the Lord gently calls me back to Himself.

In closing: The unsaved person wears a yoke of sin; the religious legalist wears a yoke of bondage; but the Christian who depends on the grace of God wears the liberating yoke of Christ. (Matthew 11:30)


Friday, July 5, 2019

The Five Most Influential Books in My Life

While preparing for my latest move, I came across a letter I wrote to my mom a few years ago about the five books (apart from the Bible) that have had the biggest impact on my life. These are not necessarily the books I have loved the most, but they all had a profound effect on my behavior.

1) Jane Eyre influenced me as a teen to stay true to my convictions no matter what.
2) My Utmost for His Highest showed me that Christianity is not for wimps.
3) Edith Schaeffer's books reinforced what my mother taught me about the value of making a home where people are loved and nurtured into the Kingdom.
4) How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Campbell radically changed my parenting style.
5) British author Anthony Trollope transformed my reading tastes from "I will read almost anything" to "Don't insult me with your fluff." (!)

What about you? What books have most influenced your life?


Friday, June 28, 2019

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn is a sweet coming-of-age story that takes place in the 1860s. Because she was a sickly baby, her father recommends that she get plenty of exercise and sunshine playing outdoors rather than staying at home to learn domestic duties. She and brothers have wonderful adventures, but as time goes on she must decide how to balance her wildness with her femaleness. Her father helps he to see that she can be true to her adventuresome spirit while at the same time developing womanly virtues. Certainly, a book that highlights the special contribution that women make to society would not be published today, but I appreciated Brink's careful handling of this subject.

The story has some similarities to the Little House books in that Caddie's mother is disdainful of Indians while her father is more open and trusting. I couldn't help comparing the books in my mind since I re-read all the Little House books last year and was so captivated by them. Although the Woodlawn family doesn't experience the same crises as the Ingalls' clan, they face their difficulties with the same no-nonsense attitude. When Caddie falls through the ice while skating, her brothers don't run for help. Instead they find a way to save her:

With cool presence of mind, Tom made Warren lie down on the ice, and, catching hold of Warren's feet, he pushed him out over the thin ice until he could reach Caddie's groping hands. "Hold tight, Warren,"he shouted. "I'll pull you both in!" And he did. Nobody made much fuss over it. Pioneer children were always having mishaps, but they were expected to know how to use their heads in emergencies. (p. 74)

 The rapscallion escapades are balanced with tender stories of Father's childhood, Caddie's growing friendship with her pesky sister, and a neighbor boy's heroism during a prairie fire. Through it all Caddie learns that though the world is filled with painful challenges, it also offers delightful surprises. She concludes that "Whatever life is like, I like it." This would be an excellent read-aloud for children.


Friday, June 21, 2019

Fair Harbor by Joseph Crosby Lincoln

Fair Harbor is a forgotten, vintage novel that snuck up on me and captured my heart completely. I had read a couple of other light novels by Lincoln before and expected a pleasant escape from stress. But I did not expect the book to make me chuckle and cheer and worry so intensely for each beloved character.

Sears Kendrick is a young sea captain who is recuperating from injuries while living in the fictional city of Bayport, Massachusetts in the 1880s. He is anxious about never being able to regain enough strength to return to sea and wondering how he will make a living. Suddenly he's offered the job of managing a home for mariners' widows. There he meets a host of interesting characters including the lovely Elizabeth Berry.

In spite of some light swearing, I thoroughly enjoyed this well-told tale of small town life. 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.

I am a sucker for stories of unrequited love and I suffered with my hero through every chapter of this book. On the other hand, I found Lincoln's New England slang highly amusing. P.G. Wodehouse makes me snicker, but J.C.L. elicits loud hoots of laughter.

This is not Jane Austen, people, but it's fun writing nevertheless. Like when Lincoln describes one of the Fair Harbor residents: Miss Elvira's thin figure stiffened to an exclamation point of disapproval. Or when he describes Miss Berry as being as cold as the bottom of the well to him.

Many of J.C. Lincoln's books are free for Kindle so I would encourage you to give him a try. Be forewarned that this book reflects its time period and twice refers to African Americans using words that are unacceptable by today's standards.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Married Love - a quote by Timothy Keller

On the richness of married love:

The passion we share now differs from the thrill we had at first like a noisy but shallow brook differs from a quieter but much deeper river. Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper. Only if you maintain your love for someone when it is not thrilling can you be said to be actually loving that person. Otherwise you are just in love with the feelings the other person brings.

from Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage.


Friday, June 7, 2019

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller

Of the more than 20 books I've read on marriage, Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage is the best.

The popular idea of marriage as the source of happiness and fulfilment has helped to erode the institution that was created for higher purposes. The Kellers clearly and skillfully address many aspects of Christian marriage, and help their readers to look beyond a consumeristic view (I'll stay married as long as all my needs are being met) toward a God-centered view (I choose to stay committed to a person when it isn't easy because God through Christ shows that kind of grace toward me.)

Tim and Kathy address many important issues: What is love? What is marriage for? How can you reflect these purposes if you are single? What about gender differences? How are Christians supposed to view their sexuality? What about the submission/headship passages?

First of all they affirm the goodness of marriage and sex. But they quickly assert that this goodness is not just personally "good for me" (i.e. meets all my needs) but good because it builds families and societies and because it brings glory to God.

Sin and self-centeredness is what makes marriage hard. (Your own sin as much as your spouse's.) What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then when you come to the [difficult] seasons, you will roll up your sleeves and get to work. (p. 149)

Romance, sex, laughter, and plain fun are the by-products of this process of sanctification, refinement, glorification. Those things are important, but they can't keep the marriage going through years and years of ordinary life. What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse's holiness. . . . Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely. (p. 134)

It's interesting to note that the book is based on a series of sermons that Keller originally preached to his congregation of mostly singles when Keller realized that many of them were not marrying because they had wrong expectations for marriage.

This is a great book with many helpful insights. Definitely in the top ten best books I've read this year.


Friday, May 31, 2019

What I Read and Watched in May

It's been a month of decluttering, packing up the house, and saying goodbyes as we head to the U.S. for home assignment. My brain was going in 20 directions per minute so reading anything heavy was out of the question.

1) I listened to Hurricane Season by Lauren Denton, which was wonderfully narrated. There were several discreet references to sex which probably wouldn't have bothered me if I'd read them, but listening to the couple talk about it felt a little like voyeurism.
2) Alias the Saint - A rather weak entry in The Saint series by Leslie Charteris
3)  The best book of all was Eugene Peterson's Take and Read, a delightful list of recommendations of worthwhile books.

On the movie front, we endured the 3rd film in the Hollow Crown film series, Henry IV, part 2. My husband said he appreciated having the background for Henry V (his favorite), but I am glad I never have to watch it again. The acting wasn't that great and the script is not Shakespeare's best. Add an unnecessary sex scene and you get a wasted Friday evening. The sequel, Henry V, was much better, but quite different from the Kenneth Branagh version. We also watched some Perry Mason and we thoroughly enjoyed the last few episodes of Season 4 of Larkrise to Candleford. Once again, I was impressed by the message that you see NOWHERE else on television - that real love is costly and yet worth the price.