Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit ) took seven years and 75 interviews with Louis Zamperini to research and collect the facts to write Unbroken,...moreLaura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit ) took seven years and 75 interviews with Louis Zamperini to research and collect the facts to write Unbroken, which was published in 2010. The book is very well written, exciting and moving. It was clearly thoroughly researched to relate interesting and accurate information about the war events and the activities of the Air Corps. It also gives the reader some insight into what POWs have suffered (some in rather graphic detail), as well as what life is like for our war veterans after returning home. Hillenbrand has broken Zamperini’s story into five parts, as follows:
Part One – Running and Flying Louie Zamperini’s knack for resilience and determination became evident very early on in his life and would carry him through some of the most challenging and harrowing experiences imaginable. As a child, Louie was always on-the-go and into mischief, which later would often involve local law enforcement. As he moved into his high school years, running from the law was exchanged for running on a track, thanks to his brother Pete, who encouraged and trained with him. Louie’s career as a track star began in 1933, when in tenth grade he began competing in high school track. Breaking one record after another, Louie was virtually unbeatable, as one news reporter wrote, “Boy! oh boy! Can that guy fly?” and Louie was given the nickname “The Torrance Torpedo.” In 1936 he competed in the World Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany. He came home without a medal, but set his eyes on 1941, when he would compete as an Olympic runner in Tokyo.
Part Two – Brief Career as a Bombardier But at age 20, Louis Zamperini’s promising future as an Olympic track medalist was shot down. In 1940 the Tokyo Olympic Games were cancelled, and the following year Louie enlisted in the Air Corps and began his training as a bombardier. This part of the story introduces the reader to Louie’s training, life in the barracks, his fellow crew members and companions (most of whom would die), and the search-and-rescue and bombing missions they conducted in their B-24 bomber.
Part Three – Stranded at Sea When Louie’s plane was shot down and he was left to survive on a raft with two fellow crewmen in the middle of the Pacific for 46 days, what they experienced is terrible beyond anything most of us could imagine. What kind of scenario could you imagine yourself in where sniffing your earwax might be a source of comfort and pleasure? Consider this:
“With every day that passed without rescue, the prospects for raft-bound men worsened dramatically. Raft provisions lasted a few days at most. Hunger, thirst, and exposure to blistering sun by day and chill by night depleted survivors with frightening rapidity. Some men died in days. Others went insane.”
Harvesting rain water and catching a rare bird or fish for raw consumption was all they had to sustain them. Add to this sharks circling below and enemy planes firing from above, and you get a bit of the picture. To keep their minds alert and sane, the men told each other stories about home, quizzed each other on trivia, recited poems, prayed aloud, sang songs, and described in detail their favorite meals. All of these kept them connected to the outside world and gave them a reason to stay alive. Meanwhile, the men were reported as Missing in Action to their families back in the States, who wouldn’t learn if they were still alive for another 16 months.
Part Four – In the Hands of the Enemy As bad as their existence was afloat at sea, things got much worse for Zamperini after coming ashore and being taken as a POW by the Japanese. For over two years, he managed to hold onto life, sometimes by a thread, as he witnessed and personally underwent some of the most horrendous atrocities any human being has endured. One particular Japanese officer called the Bird would single him out and make his existence a living hell and would haunt his dreams long after his return home. Yet Louis maintained the will, desire, and ability to not only stay alive, but to retain his mental sanity through it all.
Part Five – The Process of Healing Begins The memories of his time as a POW would have lasting effects long after Louie’s return home. Of course his health was affected, but the emotional scars lay much deeper. Even after being reunited with his family, regaining much of his physical health, and falling in love and marrying, Zamperini would struggle with what many war veterans deal with: anger, hatred, depression, fear, loneliness, isolation, nightmares and flashbacks.
Louis became consumed with vengeance, but in God’s providential timing, a young evangelist named Billy Graham came to Los Angeles, and Louis’ wife persuaded him to go and hear the preacher. God used Graham’s message to bring faith and repentance to Zamperini, to heal his soul and give him new life, making him a new creation. The following year, Zamperini visited his Japanese POW camp; he looked in the faces of former guards, now considered war criminals, and learned about what had become of his nemesis, the Bird. With his new heart and perspective, Louis was able to look at these men, not with fear, hatred, or disgust, but with compassion. Louis came to experience peace and forgiveness toward those he once hated, but only after finding the peace and forgiveness of God.
Unbroken is an amazing story of what horrible pain and emotional suffering one man is capable of enduring and yet, by the grace of God, eventually is able to go on to live a happy and productive life afterward. I discovered that Zamperini also wrote his own account of his experiences in "Devil at My Heels", originally published in 1956. I haven’t read this memoir, but from what the reviews indicate, in it Zamperini focuses more on the work of God in his life and his desire and efforts to serve the Lord after his conversion. It sounds like Devil at My Heels would be an excellent companion work to read.
Amazingly, Mr. Zamperini is still alive at age 97 and has been chosen as the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade. A film based on this book is coming out in December 2014, and I am really looking forward to seeing it. But don’t wait for the movie – read the book! (less)
When I first heard the title of this book it really intrigued me, and I immediately added it to my list of books to read. I grew up in a Christian hom...moreWhen I first heard the title of this book it really intrigued me, and I immediately added it to my list of books to read. I grew up in a Christian home and was raised in a Baptist church. I was taught that a person became a Christian by praying the “Sinner’s Prayer” and asking Jesus to come into his heart. My mom lead me to do this when, at the age of six or seven, I had enough of an understanding about sin and hell to know that because of my disobedience to my parents (and to God) I deserved to go to hell and asked her what I should do. When I got older, I can recall a couple of other occasions in public meetings raising my hand or standing to express my desire to rededicate my life to the Lord (not to mention times when I did it silently). J. D. Greear admits that, “By the time I reached the age of eighteen I had probably ‘asked Jesus into my heart’ five thousand times…I walked a lot of aisles during those days. I think I’ve been saved at least once in every denomination.” Not to mention being baptized four times.
"Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart" was written for those who:
- Have repented of their sin and prayed a sinner’s prayer numerous times, yet still have doubts about their acceptance into heaven - Cannot recall a specific moment in time when they became saved - Want to know how someone can know for sure they are saved - Wonder if they have sinned too much or rejected God too often to be forgiven
So the question is put forth: “How can anyone know, beyond all doubt, that they are saved?” Satan, the great Liar, seems to be in the business of deceiving in two ways: 1) he deceives many who are not saved into thinking that they are, and 2) he keeps those who truly are saved in doubt that they are. Greear suggests that one of the reasons these two conditions exist is because of the trite, cliché terms that are used when evangelizing the lost. The author makes the observation that in some church circles, conversion has become nothing more than reciting a ritualistic formula prayer. He acknowledges that it is Biblical to extend an offer or invitation to unbelievers to come to Christ. Preachers like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards regularly entreated the lost to repent and to pray to God to save them. Certainly it is the job of a gospel preacher, evangelist, missionary – indeed, every Christian – to put out a general call and offer the gospel to the lost. But Greear points out that praying a prayer to “accept Jesus” or “ask Jesus into your heart” without a genuine repentance of sin and desire to obey and follow Christ does not result in salvation. Yet many rest all of their confidence and assurance on that moment when they prayed the sinner’s prayer rather than resting in the work of Christ. On the other hand, just because you don’t recall inviting Jesus into your heart, or can’t pinpoint your “spiritual birthday” as the day you were saved, doesn’t mean you aren’t.
True spiritual regeneration produces both faith and repentance, which are outward signs of and responses to the internal work of God, for only a heart that has been changed by the Holy Spirit can believe or repent of sin. Greear spends a chapter on each of these elements, faith and repentance, which he explains are like two sides of a coin and go hand-in-hand. He explains what faith is not: mere intellectual understanding and mental assent about who Jesus is and what He did. Nor is faith a decision made at one point in time. It’s a present “posture” (to use Greear’s term) that continues on throughout the believer’s life.
Greear observes that assurance of salvation can never come from looking back at what I did (or didn’t do) in the past; that will always result in doubts. In fact, the reason many struggle with doubts about their salvation may be because they are looking at what they’ve done/are doing rather than trusting in what God has done according to the promises in His Word. The best way to deal with doubts when they arise is not to look back at what took place at your supposed time of conversion (or refer to the date written on the inside cover of your Bible), but rather to look at your present state – are you trusting Christ NOW?
He goes on to explain what repentance is not: it's not praying a prayer, feeling sorry about sin, or even confessing it. It isn’t religious activity, partial surrender, or perfection. Repentance is not the absence of sin; in fact, Greear points out, “Repentance ushers us into a life of greater struggle [with sin] not out of one…the struggle is proof of [our] new nature.”
After looking at the topics of faith and repentance, Greear spends one chapter discussing the idea of eternal security, or what is sometimes phrased, “once saved, always saved.” Finally, before summarizing, he looks briefly at chief evidences that a person is truly saved. This could’ve been presented as a legalistic checklist, ie. if you’re really a Christian you will do this, and this, and this. Instead he sums it up as Christ Himself summed up the law of God: love for God and love for others.
J. D. Greear believes, as do I, that God desires for His children to have assurance of salvation. Greear states, “Until you know that you are His and He is yours, your obedience will be limited. Your love will be stifled, your confidence will be shaky, and your courage will be minimal.” God gave His Word to His children to reassure and remind us of His promises to us. God our Father desires for us to live abundant, victorious lives, filled with His joy and peace, and having bold confidence to approach Him. Does this mean we will always feel happy, will never become discouraged, and will no longer be tempted by or fall into sin? Does it mean we will never have times of weakness, fear or doubt? Of course not. But when those times come, we must look to Christ and trust in the truths of God’s Word, not to our own decisions, actions, or feelings.
"Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart" is a quick and easy read of only about 120 pages. J. D. Greear’s book isn’t what I would call meaty or theologically deep, but it is sound and accessible to the typical Christian. I would recommend it to anyone who has had ongoing struggles with doubts about their salvation.(less)
Martin Luther is quoted as stating, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he...moreMartin Luther is quoted as stating, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” I believe that was one of C.S. Lewis’ purposes for writing The Screwtape Letters. In this creative literary work, Lewis has composed a series of letters from a chief demon named Screwtape to his apprentice, his nephew Wormwood, as he offers him guidance and advice.
Of course the entire work is for the most part based on speculation, for we know very little about how Satan and his cohorts operate or what goes on in the spirit world around. We do know, however, based on Scripture, that Satan is real and that spiritual warfare is ongoing and has been since the fall of Man in Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Unfortunately, the idea of Satan and devils/demons is no longer taken seriously by many unbelievers, but has become more of a mythical or fictitious character, like zombies and vampires.
On the other hand, some Christians tend to be overly pre-occupied with thoughts of satanic activity and even place Satan on an equal footing with God in some ways. This is nothing but the ancient dualistic view of good vs. evil, except of course the Christian knows that God will win in the end. I like Lewis’s explanation regarding this misconception:
"The commonest question is whether I really ‘believe in the Devil.’ Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God, and like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite…I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies of God…Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael [the archangel]."
I think Christians sometimes give Satan himself more credit than he deserves. If you feel you are being tempted or oppressed physically or spiritually in some way, and are thinking that Satan himself is causing it, just remember that Satan doesn’t know everything, he can’t be everywhere at once, and he doesn’t have full and free reign to do whatever he wishes, as many of the verses above prove. Since Satan is only a finite being, he requires his minions to carry out his bidding. We also need to keep in mind, that while God himself doesn’t tempt us to sin, He does bring things which we may view as negative into the lives of His children to instruct, correct, strengthen, and purify, and ultimately for His glory.
In his Preface, Lewis explains that his idea of what he refers to as “devils” is merely his opinion and that many will take his interpretation as metaphorical and allegorical. Here he gives his purpose for writing The Screwtape Letters, as he states, “It makes little difference which way you read it. For of course its purpose was not to speculate about diabolical life but to throw light from a new angle on the life of men.” He further explains that The Letters are not a product of a deep, academic study of theology, for “there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. ‘My heart’ – I need no other’s – ‘showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.’”
The Screwtape Letters is a partial picture of the spiritual warfare being waged against God and His purposes and people, but only from Satan’s perspective. Because of this, the reader must put his spectacles on backward, so to speak, and constantly keep in mind that “The Enemy” the writer refers to is God, and that which is called good is in reality bad, and vice versa. Lewis warns us, “Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.” The Letters are a hypothetical and speculative glimpse into the schemes and strategies that Satan may use to 1) keep individuals from becoming Christians, and 2) keep Christians from living holy lives and being effective in Christ’s kingdom. Here are a few of the ideas Lewis suggests regarding Satan’s methods:
- Satan is pleased and takes advantage of the fact that men no longer think of ideas as being true or false, or behavior as right or wrong; rather they identify them as being practical, useful, convenient, contemporary, old-fashioned, open-minded, tolerant, etc.
- Satan uses mundane, ordinary matters (like work, marriage or school) to distract men from thinking about the more serious spiritual matters. Isn’t it true that so many people are attentive to their physical health, their college courses, or their career, but are neglectful of the health and growth of their spiritual life?
- Satan hates when we pray, and when we do he will try to keep our eyes on ourselves rather than on Christ.
- Satan has no interest or desire in giving man pleasure, but he will try to turn the good things we enjoy (ie. food, sex, recreation) into an idol or sinful behavior.
- Satan uses minor sins just as effectively as serious ones, often even more so, to keep men from God.
- Whereas God wants us to live in the Present with Eternity in mind, Satan wants us preoccupied with either the Past or the Future.
- Satan loves for men to succeed in this world, for it causes them to take their eyes off the kingdom of God and the world to come.
Lewis offers many other insights like these throughout the series of letters, many of which I think the reader will find to be true in his own personal experience.
There are a few problems and cautions in The Screwtape Letters that I feel the need to point out. As I observed in Mere Christianity, in my opinion Lewis tends to place too much weight on man’s free will and downplays God’s sovereignty. As one example, consider this passage, in which Screwtape offers counsel to Wormwood regarding his “patient,” who has just become a Christian:
"The Enemy has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants—“sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.” There lies our opportunity."
A couple of things to observe here. First, nowhere in the Bible does it say that it’s God’s plan to make every human being His child, for if that is God’s goal, He is clearly failing. Secondly, the whole idea of God not helping His children to carry out His purposes for them – rubbish. God’s Word tells us, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do according to His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
At the very beginning of the book, in the second letter, Screwtape writes to Wormwood:
"I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian...There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily are still in our favour."
Now, perhaps Satan is that self-deceived and believes that after a person becomes a Christian he still has a chance to get him back, but this is certainly not what Scripture teaches. Sure, people may make verbal or outward professions or signs of becoming a Christian, but people do not visit the "camp" or kingdom of God, temporarily become His sons, and then go back to belonging to the kingdom of darkness. Once a heart is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and an individual is adopted as a child of God, there is no returning. One reason this is true is because regeneration is God's work, not man's (John 1:12-13). The Scriptures also teach that God finishes what He starts and that Christ is both the author AND the finisher of our faith).
However, as Lewis himself reminds readers in his Preface, we can’t necessarily take everything Screwtape says at face value, so whether this poor doctrine is coming merely from Screwtape or actually from Lewis himself is tough to say. Again, keep in mind this work is based primarily on observations and experience in life, and not to be taken as a theological treatise or doctrinal truths found in Scripture.
For a more serious and theological study of how Satan works and how the Christian can combat him, consider reading "Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices" by Thomas Brooks. Another more current book on this topic is "True Friendship" by Vaughan Robert, which challenges believers to ask the question, "If you were the devil, where would you attack yourself?"
Last year I was contacted by the author of Who’s Your Father? who asked me if I’d read and review his book, which he had recently published, and he se...moreLast year I was contacted by the author of Who’s Your Father? who asked me if I’d read and review his book, which he had recently published, and he sent me a copy. Mr. Bernecker is not a theologian, pastor, or seminary professor, but merely a layman who came to an understanding of the sovereignty of God through his own personal, in-depth study of the Scriptures. His book is written for the lay Christian and is chock full of scriptures. For example, Bernecker cites or quotes some 80 verses or passages in just the first chapter of 16 pages to support or illustrate his points. He also draws from the works of many highly-respected Puritans, Reformers, preachers, evangelists and authors, including: Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Pink, Packer, Boice, and Sproul, and others.
The topic of Bernecker’s book is the important and much-debated topic of the sovereignty of God, a biblical truth and beloved doctrine held by the early Reformers, but resisted and even denied by some Christians today. The idea of a person being “the master of one’s own destiny” is nothing less than atheistic thinking, and the boast of being a “self-made man” is a prideful denial of God’s sovereignty. I believe this mindset has to some extent carried over into our theology and has undermined this doctrine. While the belief in God’s sovereignty is often said to be balanced by the truth of man’s responsibility, many churches have no problem emphasizing the latter, while neglecting or downplaying the former. In his book, Bernecker addresses the subject of God’s sovereignty over nature and circumstances, over the free will of men, and in salvation.
Many who are not professing Christians are willing to concede the existence of God, at least “a detached hands-off observer-god,” but Bernecker sets forth many scriptures to show that this is not the God of the Bible – scriptures that describe a God who did not merely set universal laws and “mother nature” into motion, but who is actively involved in and is the first cause of everything that takes place.
It seems that some people are willing to allow God a certain amount of sovereignty or control over some aspects of life, but perhaps not every aspect, or at least not all the time. Psalm 115:3 reminds us, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” On the other hand, Bernecker comments,
"…a god who does not get what he wants is not God at all. There would necessarily be some limitation to that supposed god’s power, knowledge, resources, or abilities – otherwise that god would, in fact, be able to get what he wanted and to do exactly as he pleased."
Bernecker observes that it’s actually illogical and pointless to pray to God, wait on Him, trust Him, or give thanks to Him unless we really believe He is completely involved and in control of all circumstances. Some people make a distinction between those areas in which God is “allowed” to take control and other areas in which He is not involved, for whatever reason.
The author addresses another attitude or view held by people, particularly Christians, regarding God, and that’s the idea that God is a gentleman who would never force His influence or even His love on a person who didn’t want or ask for it. Bernecker also discusses the implications of the foreknowledge of God, what it means and especially what it doesn’t and can’t mean. In his discussion about God’s knowledge of the future, Bernecker also touches on the modern belief system known as open theism – a false view that teaches that God is limited in His knowledge and is always growing and learning.
Bernecker deals with some of the common objections against the doctrine of election and the role of God’s sovereignty in salvation, (e.g. "God didn't make us robots.") He also explores the idea of fairness in relation to the doctrines of predestination and election. Some like to say that God is “doing everything He can to save sinners,” but it is up to them to respond and accept Him. They say that it wouldn’t be fair of God to choose to save some people but not others. But Bernecker explains how this thinking is faulty and presumptuous on our part. We can see in the Bible examples of God taking extreme measures to save certain individuals – the apostle Paul, for example – but not others. Bernecker observes,
"How many unbelievers, or even outright atheists, would certainly choose to believe if they too were stopped in their tracks by supernatural, blinding light and the deafening voice of the resurrected Jesus calling them by name?...Some people are given a greater exposure to the Gospel than others, and some people that would surely repent if they were exposed to the Gospel are not given the opportunity…on the other hand, Romans 8:28-30 teaches us that God will do all that is necessary to save those people whom he has chosen."
The doctrine of God's sovereignty not only magnifies God and makes Him all the more wonderful, but is an amazingly comforting, reassuring truth. While this understanding of God puts man in his proper place, at the same time it inspires the humbling thought, “Who am I, that You, O Lord, are mindful of me?” (Ps. 8). As Bernecker puts it,
"Our Father is unlimited in perception, unlimited in power, unlimited in ability, unlimited in resources, and unlimited in wisdom…such a realization can yield nothing less than unmitigated worship and adoration for our Father, who is sovereign over every detail in the universe and still chooses us to be his very own."
Robert Bernecker’s desire and intent for his book is primarily to remind the Christian reader that God’s sovereignty is closely linked to His love for His children. Having a proper view of God’s sovereignty will inspire awe, love, faith, and worship towards our God. Confident belief in God’s sovereignty will affect our worship, our prayer life, our attitude in trying circumstances, and our approach in witnessing to the lost. If as a Christian you have struggled with understanding or accepting just how sovereign God is, I believe this book will provide much food for thought along with the Biblical grounds for seeing and embracing this tremendous aspect of our Heavenly Father.
I just finished this wonderful work of 125 short pages in which Charles Spurgeon presents the work of the Trinity in saving sinners. This book has a d...moreI just finished this wonderful work of 125 short pages in which Charles Spurgeon presents the work of the Trinity in saving sinners. This book has a decidedly evangelistic tone, as the preacher addresses the reader in the imperative saying things like, “Come and see,” “Now look at this,” and “Listen to me.” I believe this book would be profitable reading not only for unsaved individuals, but for someone who is a new believer, someone who’s unsure if he’s saved, someone who wants to understand how one is saved, or someone who’s struggling with a sense of guilt or unworthiness before God. It’s also a great little book to reaffirm and remind any believer of all that God has done for him to bring about his salvation and to keep him in the faith. Topics addressed in this brief work include: grace, regeneration, justification, faith, repentance, sanctification, Christ’s intercession, and the preservation of the believer. Spurgeon’s skillful use of illustrations helps the reader in his understanding of these truths.
Spurgeon begins by explaining the wonderful truth that “God justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).
Spurgeon eloquently explains how grace and faith are related and how they bring about salvation. He describes grace as a fountain which gives life, and faith as the vehicle God uses to deliver the life-imparting grace to us. A person is foolish if he expects water to flow from an aqueduct which is not connected to the water supply. Likewise if a person’s faith is in anything but Christ, it cannot result in life-giving salvation. I thought this was a good illustration of why we must be careful that we’re not trusting in our faith to save us. Rather, it is what our faith is connected to or founded on that is the source of our salvation.
Next Spurgeon looks at the stages of faith: knowledge, belief, and trust. Upon hearing the Gospel, the mind receives and processes the information, but this is not enough to produce faith. Next the mind, if opened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, believes these things to be true, and so he is one step closer to true faith. But Spurgeon adds that “one more ingredient is needed to complete it--trust."
Spurgeon continues to remind the reader that everything we have that plays a part in our salvation comes from God; we cannot do or contribute anything to it. Like faith, repentance is also a vehicle God uses in our conversion. And just like faith, it’s not something we can generate in our own strength. As with faith, we must be careful not to be trusting in our repentance to save us, but in Christ who grants repentance. And just as we are unable to begin the work of salvation by producing faith or repentance, neither are we able to sustain ourselves in our own strength. Once again, it is God’s grace that will preserve us, for He is not only the author of our faith, but the finisher of it as well (Heb. 12:2).
In All of Grace Charles Spurgeon’s desire is to help the reader to see that he or she can and must be saved only by God’s grace, that by His grace we are made holy, and by His grace we will persevere until the end.
"Hudson Taylor did not start out to impact "millions." He started out to love God, to honor Him, and to share His love with individual sinners who nee...more"Hudson Taylor did not start out to impact "millions." He started out to love God, to honor Him, and to share His love with individual sinners who needed so desperately to know Him. Jesus called Taylor (and us) to be 'faithful,' not 'successful.' And God added the increase."
This book was written by Taylor's son Howard and his wife. Hudson Taylor deeply sensed God's call and a desire to serve Him from the time of his conversion as a teenager. Early on he believed it was China that God would have him go, and immediately he began to prepare himself for this purpose. Much like Jim Elliot, Taylor prepared himself physically by engaging in outdoor exercise and by minimizing the comforts of life. He dedicated more time to prayer and Bible study, and began evangelizing and learning the Chinese language. He also study medicine and received medical training so he would have a useful skill to offer the Chinese people. And he subjected himself to long hours, meager meals, and small, simple living quarters.
Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). At the time of his arrival in 1854, there were only five port cities in China in which foreigners were allowed to reside. It soon became Taylor's desire and goal to penetrate the interior with the Gospel. Before the end of his second year, he had taken ten evangelistic trips inland, traveling by junk, preaching and distributing New Testaments and other literature. He was very moved at the suffering he saw all around him.
"What it means to be so far from home, at the seat of war and not able to understand or be understood by the people was fully realized. Their utter wretchedness and misery and my inability to help them or even point them to Jesus powerfully affected me. Satan came in as a flood, but there was One who lifted up a standard against him. Jesus is here, and though unknown to the majority and uncared-for by many who might know Him, He is present and precious to His own."
Sometime during that second year, Taylor decided to conform to the Chinese style of dress because he found his European look was a distraction to his hearers.
"Wearing Chinese dress in those days involved shaving the front part of the head and letting the hair grow long for the regulation queue [braid] No missionary or other foreigner conformed to such a custom...But it was access to the people he desired...he took the step which was to have so great an influence on the evangelization of inland China!"
Hudson Taylor married 21-year-old Maria Dyer, with whom he had seven children. Due to his poor health, they returned to England for five years. While there he spent his time preaching, working on a Chinese translation of the New Testament, and promoting the work of missions in China. He began praying to God to supply workers and finances to take the gospel to China, and he wrote a pamphlet describing the spiritual needs in China, but he was determined to seek and trust God alone, and not to directly solicit individuals, an approach known as "faith missions." He truly believed that "God's work, done in God's way, will never lack God's supplies." This was the beginning of the missionary organization he called China Inland Mission (CIM), whose name would later be changed to Overseas Missionary Fellowship in 1953 in order to avoid suspicion when Communist China became closed to missionary efforts.
In 1866, the Taylors returned to China with their four children and 16 young missionaries. The Taylors endured many hardships including threats by civil violence and political unrest, physical discomforts, ill health, and limited resources, but none of this was important to Hudson and his wife. He wrote,
"We heed these things very little. Around us are poor, dark heathen - large cities without any missionary, populous towns without any missionary, villages without number, all without the means of grace. I do not envy the state of mind that would forget these, or leave them to perish, for fear of a little discomfort. May God make us faithful to Him and to our work."
Along with these troubles, Taylor suffered the death of three of his young children, the third dying at one week old, followed shortly by his wife in 1870. But Hudson Taylor's faith and complete surrender to God, his "spiritual secret," sustained him with the joy and peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. In 1869, Taylor wrote,
"I now think that this striving, longing, hoping for better days to come is not the true way to holiness, happiness or usefulness... He is most holy who has most of Christ within, and joys most fully in the finished work...To let my loving Saviour work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by His grace. Abiding, not striving nor struggling...Not a striving to have faith, but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity."
Two years after the death of his first wife, Taylor remarried, and he and his wife continued to work for the cause of missions in China for the next thirty years. The Inland China Mission continued to expand and to send missionaries into the different provinces of China, with the exception of a few brief periods of time when they went back to England or visited other countries. However the last year of his life was spent in China, where he died in 1905. When he retired as the director of CIM in 1900, the mission society had 750 missionaries; OMF currently has 1600 workers.
This book includes some helpful additions, such as a map of China and a chronology of Taylor's life with dates. Reading about Hudson Taylor's life and ministry in China was interesting, but the best parts of this book were the excerpts from his own letters through which we gain a glimpse into the heart and spiritual life of Taylor and his relationship with his Lord. Here is another favorite quote of mine by Taylor:
"It doesn't matter, really, how great the pressure is, it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord -- then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast."
Apparently Hudson Taylor's view of "resting in Christ" has been associated with what is known as Keswick or Higher Life view of sanctification. This view can be summed up by the statement, "Let go and let God," but there is a fine balance that needs to be kept in mind. Yes, God is working in us to sanctify us, but there is some responsibility on our part as well to be obedient, to "pursue holiness," and to "work out our salvation"(Phil. 2:12-13). Some in this movement also taught that a believer could experience a "second blessing" or special empowering of the Holy Spirit that would enable the believer to have greater victory over sin - thus elevating him to a "higher life." I don't see how anyone could say that Taylor was passive in his approach to sanctification, and it didn't sound to me like he believed in a second blessing or that we could eventually totally overcome the power of sin in our life.
"He was a physician...full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, of entire surrender to God and His call, of great self-denial, heartfelt compassion, rare power in prayer, marvelous organizing faculty, energetic initiative, indefatigable perseverance, and of astonishing influence with men, and withal of childlike humility." (less)
Warning: If you have no desire to identify, expose and root out sin in your life, then this book is not for you.
Little white lies. Guilty pleasures. E...moreWarning: If you have no desire to identify, expose and root out sin in your life, then this book is not for you.
Little white lies. Guilty pleasures. Errors in judgment. These are just a few examples of how the language of modern-day society softens and trivializes the seriousness of sin. When was the last time you heard someone said they fornicated? No, instead they say they "slept with" someone; now doesn't that sound nice and cozy? Saying that two people are "having an affair" sounds so much more pleasant than saying they're committing adultery. We are told to be sensitive and tolerant of the faults of others. We don't want to hurt someone's feelings, damage their self-esteem or cause them to feel guilty, let alone take responsibility, for their sinful behavior so we label the behavior a character flaw or even a disorder. But never mind the character flaws, weaknesses and sins of others; what we need to be concerned with is our own sin.
Jerry Bridges observes that the Puritans had a more serious view of sin and addressed this topic often in their writings; in one book he noticed that the author used such terms as "vile, ugly, odious, malignant, pestilent, pernicious, hideous, spiteful, poisonous, virulent, abominable, and deadly" to describe sin, and that was only in a few pages! Jerry Bridges compares sin to cancer, for "when desire [or lust] has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:15). For this reason Bridges believes that it's crucial for the Christian to confront every sin, and he doesn't hesitate to identify common, subtle sins that even Christians sometimes overlook or excuse.
"The acceptable sins...deceive us into thinking they are not so bad, or not thinking of them as sins, or even worse, not even thinking about them at all! Yes, some of our refined sins are so subtle that we commit them without even thinking about them, either at the time or afterward. We often live in unconscious denial of our 'acceptable' sins."
Every true believer knows that sin doesn't just go away the moment we come to faith in Christ. In his book, Bridges begins by trying to help the reader understand just how serious sin is and why:
"When we sin, when we violate the law of God in any way, be it ever so small in our eyes, we rebel against the sovereign authority and transcendent majesty of God...It is indeed cosmic treason...to despise God's law is to despise Him."
Even after we're saved we continue to battle remaining sin; a war wages within us between the flesh and the spirit (Rom. 7:14-25). We will become discouraged and defeated if we try to combat sin in our own strength. While it's true that no sin is so big that God cannot forgive it, it's also true that no sin is so small that He can overlook it. He takes no sin lightly, and neither should we. After all, "Shall we presume on God's grace by tolerating in ourselves the very sin that nailed Christ to the cross?"
"Make no mistake: Dealing with our sin is not an option. We are commanded to put sin to death. It is our duty to do so. But duty without desire soon produces drudgery. And it is the truth of the gospel, reaffirmed in our hearts daily, that puts desire into our duty...It is the gospel that motivates us to seek to be in our daily experience what we are in our standing before God."
The author follows this exhortation with some practical suggestions for confronting sin in our life. When the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts the believer of sin, his best weapon for dealing with it is the sword of the Spirit, God's Word. The Gospel is not only for unbelievers - it's for all sinners; "there is never a day in our lives when we are so "good" we don't need the gospel," Bridges says. For this reason, he encourages the reader to preach the gospel to himself daily, and gives some practical steps for confronting sin once we recognize it. I need to remind myself of what Jesus already accomplished for me and of God's promises.
Next, Bridges discusses some of the specific sins that are often tolerated by Christians, or not even considered by some to be sin at all. Of course this list isn't all-inclusive; you may think of other sins that affect you, and the above steps will still be applicable. Some of the sins Bridges addresses include: Ungodliness and Unthankfulness, Pride and Selfishness, Anger, Envy and Jealousy, Lack of Self-control, Sins of the tongue, Worldliness and others.
I'm sure every reader sees at least a couple of issues on this list that they know they struggle with, while there are others that you may not think apply to you as much, until you really take a closer look at them. Bridges reminds us that all sin begins in the heart and may express itself outwardly in different ways. Like a doctor who uses symptoms to diagnose a medical condition, by identifying particular signs or evidence of sin, Bridges is helping the reader to dig down and expose the root sin which may be lying below the surface. And this is where it gets personal!
I recently read through this book with my daughter-in-law and a friend using the Discussion Guide, and it's definitely a book I intend to read through again. For my more detailed discussion of this book, visit my blog at www.ImAllBooked.com.(less)
The Puritan preacher/writer Thomas Watson (1620-1686) is considered one of our church’s honorary elders (in absentia), since we enjoy reading and refe...moreThe Puritan preacher/writer Thomas Watson (1620-1686) is considered one of our church’s honorary elders (in absentia), since we enjoy reading and referencing his books and sermons so much. Over the past year, we have been going through his book The Godly Man’s Picture at our monthly ladies’ breakfasts at my church, because of course the term “godly man” in the book’s title doesn’t refer just to the male species but is relevant to women as well. The book has been very profitable and has stimulated good group discussion about what it means to be a godly person. Although written some 350 years ago, the topic and illustrations are still quite valid and applicable to the Christian life today. Watson is a master illustrator, and as the title of the book states, he uses the Word of God to draw in some detail a portrait of what a godly person looks like, as well as what he or she is not like.
The process of becoming godly begins with an act of God in which He forgives sin and justifies the sinner because of the work of Christ on the individual’s behalf. Thomas Watson defines godliness this way:
“Godliness is the sacred impression and workmanship of God in a man, whereby from being carnal he is made spiritual. When godliness is wrought in a person, he does not receive a new soul, but he has ‘another spirit.’ The faculties are not new, but the qualities are; the strings are the same, but the tune is corrected.”
Among other characteristics of godliness, Pastor Watson points out that godliness in a believer is a fact; it is supernatural, something that cannot come from the natural man but must come from God alone; it is extensive, affecting every area of the person’s life; and it is permanent and will be carried into eternity. After giving some words of warning to “pretenders of godliness,” Watson then proceeds with his portrait by listing, describing and explaining “Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven,” taking about 170 pages to address 24 traits. Watson identifies from Scripture that a godly person is:
- A man of knowledge - A man moved by faith - A man careful about the worship of God - A man who serves God not men - A man who loves the Word - A man of humility - A man of prayer - A zealous man - A thankful man - A patient man - A man who strives to be an instrument for making others godly
This section makes up the bulk of the text, followed by an exhortation to the reader toward godliness and some words of counsel and comfort to those who are sincere in their desire to live a godly life.
I know that sometimes we can be intimidated about reading the writers of centuries past because of archaic language, but Thomas Watson really is not difficult to read. He does make occasional references or allusions to historical or literary people whom we may not be familiar, but it’s not enough to make his works unreadable by any means. Watson has a way with words, and this book is chock full of short, pithy statements that are deep with spiritual meaning. Here are just a few tidbits to whet your appetite:
“To know arts and science is to gather straw, but to know God in Christ is to gather pearl.” “Those who will add to one part of God’s worship will be as ready to take away from another.” “The Lord not only fits work for us, but fits us for our work.” “If God does not give us what we crave, he will give us what we need.” “Those who will not be taught by the Word shall be judged by the Word.” “Prayer is a bomb which will make heaven’s gates fly open.” “It is better to have God approve than the world applaud.” “Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger. It carries forth our love to God and anger against sin in the most intense manner.” “The more outrageous the wicked are against the truth, the more courageous the godly are for it.” “A child of God keeps two books always by him: one to write his sins in, so that he may be humble; the other to write his mercies in, so that he may be thankful.”
II Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” The Godly Man’s Picture gives much opportunity to reflect on who you are in Christ and to take a serious assessment of your own walk with God and the evidence of His sanctifying work in you.(less)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was an English preacher who lived from 1834-1892 and is known for his bold sermons and writings. At our church, we almost thin...moreCharles Haddon Spurgeon was an English preacher who lived from 1834-1892 and is known for his bold sermons and writings. At our church, we almost think of Spurgeon as an honorary elder because our pastors and teachers value and draw from his works so much. I've had the intention of reading a major work by Spurgeon for years and finally decided this year to go through his Morning and Evening devotionals, and I am finding it a tremendous blessing.
This volume is a collection of short devotionals - mini sermons really - two for each day of the year. Each one is based on one phrase or verse from Scripture and takes only about two minutes to read. It's amazing to me how much depth and meaning Spurgeon could get out of one short sentence! He then uses the context of the verse, other scriptures, and memorable illustrations and metaphors to expound the text and make application to the reader. Topics he touches on include: heaven, sin, judgment, suffering, prayer, God's Word, God's attributes, the atonement (Christ's work on the cross), the work of the Holy Spirit, the church, sanctification (the process of becoming holy), obedience and mortification of sin, and more.
The selections provide the reader with a balanced variety of words of comfort and encouragement, reminders of spiritual truths, instruction and exhortation, and conviction. Here is just a small sampling of the "jewels" this volume contains:
"God's altar was to be built of unhewn stones, that no trace of human skill or labour might be seen upon it... The proud heart of man is very anxious to have a hand in the justification of the soul before God... It were well if sinners would remember that so far from perfecting the Saviour's work, their carnal confidences only pollute and dishonour it."
"It is a delightful and profitable occupation to mark the hand of God in the lives of ancient saints, and to observe His goodness in delivering them, His mercy in pardoning them, and His faithfulness in keeping His covenant with them. But ought we not to look upon our own history as being at least as full of God...as the lives of any of the saints who have gone before? We do our Lord an injustice when we suppose that He wrought all His mighty acts and showed Himself strong for those in the early time, but doth not perform wonders or lay bare his arm for the saints who are now upon the earth."
"It is our duty and our privilege to wait upon the Lord in service, in worship, in expectancy, in trust all the days of our life. Our faith will be tried faith, and if it be of the true kind, it will bear continued trial without yielding. We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously He once waited for us."
"A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian. If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father's face and live in thy Father's love."
These daily readings will cause the reader to reflect on his own relationship and walk with God, to praise Him for His works, attributes, and promises, and at times to deal honestly with his heart and humble himself in repentance. The passages help the believer to take his eyes off himself - his merits, failings, and troubles - and to look instead to Christ. Sometimes the writer addresses that reader who may yet be in a state of unbelief to turn to Jesus, "to believe and live." Spurgeon's thoughts come from the heart of one who clearly loved and cared about people, but who loved his Lord above all else(less)
I first read Mere Christianity in college and decided it was time to give it another go. The question I had for myself was, what would I take from it...moreI first read Mere Christianity in college and decided it was time to give it another go. The question I had for myself was, what would I take from it now, 30 years more knowledgeable and mature in my faith, than I did on my initial reading of it? So here are some of my observations - both positive and negative.
It's important to keep in mind that C. S. Lewis's education was in the areas of literature and philosophy, not theology. Lewis's purpose for Mere Christianity was not to discuss or explain specific points of Biblical doctrine. When reading Lewis, it is clear he is not a theologian, and he admits it himself:
"The thing I am going to try to explain in this chapter (entitled "Faith") may be ahead of me. I may be thinking I have got there when I have not. I can only ask instructed Christians to watch very carefully, and tell me when I go wrong; and others to take what I say with a grain of salt--as something offered, because it may be a help, not because I am certain that I am right."
According to his own words in the Preface, which was written ten years after the original, Lewis held the opinion that, "the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others."
Here I think Lewis reveals that he doesn't consider himself a theologian, but it also sounds as if he doesn't think the "study of God" (which is what the term theology means) is for the everyday Christian, but should be reserved for "experts." On this point I have to disagree. It seems to me that every Christian should have a desire and make an effort to study and know God better, and to be a student of God's Word. J. I. Packer addresses this in his book, Knowing God. In my opinion, saying that studying and understanding the doctrines of the Bible is only for intellectuals or for those who are ministers or missionaries is a cop-out. I think one of the reasons Christianity is so weak and has so little impact in society is because people don't know what they believe or why. After all, how can I live as a Christian if I don't know what the defining distinctions of a Christian are?
So Mere Christianity is not a work of theology but of apologetics, directed primarily to the non-Christian, not to the Christian. Whereas Lewis feels that points of doctrine should be limited to "in-house" debates, his book addresses topics that are broader in scope, such as human nature, the existence of God, and the definition of morality, especially in the first half of the book. And that brings us to another point - why Lewis uses the term "mere" in reference to the Christianity he is discussing. He isn't setting out to persuade his readers towards a specific doctrinal stance or belief system within Christianity, but to win them over to Christianity in general. His Christianity is very ecumenical; proof of this is the fact that he asked for feedback on his book from four different clergymen: an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic (hey, no Baptist?), and except for a couple of minor comments, they were all in agreement on Lewis's views.
Lewis does in fact discuss some theological topics, such as the deity of Christ, the atonement, the fall and depravity of man, faith and repentance, and the process of sanctification. Again, since the book is written more for non-Christians and even non-religious people, he doesn't use theological terminology or site any scripture because (I suppose) he is trying to make Christianity understandable and accessible to them. But it's where he explains doctrine without using God's Word that I was most uncomfortable with Lewis and found problems with what he says. He just tries too hard to be original and creative in his use of metaphors and illustrations that it became tiresome to me. After reading some of his examples, I'd find myself scratching my head and saying, "Huh? What are you talking about?" and I've come across many others who've had the same reaction.
Lewis does make some good points, and some of his statements and illustrations are quite memorable. Probably the most famous of Lewis's statements is the following about who Jesus is:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
Clearly Lewis's clever way of putting things actually works at times, as long as they are orthodox, but sometimes they aren't. In a 2005 article entitled "C.S. Lewis Superstar," Christianity Today wrote, "Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn't subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration."
There are just too many examples I could provide of statements that I feel are not biblically sound. For several examples of where I believe Lewis misses the mark theologically (as well as a few more of his better statements), read my more thorough review of this book at http://imallbooked.com/2013/08/26/is-....
Lewis may be considered one of the most original Christian writers of the 20th century, but I think his creativity serves him better in his fictional works: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Space Trilogy and even The Great Divorce. While his theology creeps into these stories, it's more subtle and can readily be overlooked since they aren't meant to be taken literally. So do I recommend Mere Christianity? Well, since so many Christians praise it and consider it a valuable resource, I guess it might be a good idea to read it just to be familiar with it. True, Mere Christianity emphasizes the importance of living out the Christian life, but there are much better books out that address that issue - too many to even list here. While Mere Christianity has some value, I believe its problems outweigh its merits and that again, there are better apologetic works available to share with your non-religious friends. (less)
This abridgement of the original text was edited by a group of laymen in the 1950s to make it more readable and accessible to the 20th century reader....moreThis abridgement of the original text was edited by a group of laymen in the 1950s to make it more readable and accessible to the 20th century reader. William Law's book, published in England in 1728, was written in a time and society in which just about everyone professed to be a Christian and attended church. But Law observed that there were many nominal Christians who appeared to value the teachings of the Bible and attended church on Sundays but were not serious about living out Christ's teachings in their every day life. This book is not intended to tell the reader how to become a Christian, but rather, how to be a "good" Christian. Law challenges those who profess the name of Christ to take it seriously and to live out what they claim to be. "A Serious Call" may feel a bit moralistic or legalistic at times, but it needs to be kept in mind that the author is not implying that by living a good life a person can earn his salvation or even earn more favor with God.
The scriptures teach that if God has redeemed and saved a person, he is a new creature - he should be different: different than he was before, and different than unbelievers. The author observes that if everyone who claimed to be a Christian actually intended and made an effort to live like one, it would make a difference in society.
"He is the devout man who considers and serves God in everything and who makes all of his life an act of devotion by doing everything in the name of God and under such rules as are conformable to His glory."
Law asserts that holy living is not just for some Christians, but for all. It should be the life goal, purpose, and desire of every true Christian to live a holy life. Just as the Apostle Paul refers to "running the race", Law comments, "As the race which is set before [us] is a race of holiness, purity, and heavenly affection, [our] everyday diet has only this one end: to make [our bodies] fitter for this spiritual race." Law comments:
"If we would make real progress in religion, we must not only abhor gross and notorious sins, but we must regulate the innocent and lawful parts of our behavior, and put the most common and allowed actions of life under the rules of discretion and piety."
"If you would be a good Christian, there is but one way - you must live wholly unto God. You must live according to the wisdom that comes from God. You must act according to right judgments of the nature and value of things. You must live in the exercise of holy and heavenly affections. And you must use all the gifts of God to his praise and glory."
After a general discussion of the importance of holy living, Law addresses the use of resources, the pursuit of worldly vs. spiritual desires, and contentment. The author uses fictional character sketches to show the difference between a godly, religious life and a worldly one. He lists as some of the benefits of living a life devoted to God to be greater contentment, peace, and enjoyment of God.
Law then turns to specific disciplines. He gives the benefits of private times of prayer and intercession, hymn singing, and confession. He also talks about the discipline or practice of humility, which needs to be taught from a young age because it is an attitude that opposes our human nature. Other subjects discussed include instruction in the things of God, love for all men, and conformity to God's will.
Law's emphasis on holy living does create some tension. He suggests at one point that if I really have the desire and intention of pleasing God and am using "the ordinary means of grace," I would be empowered to avoid falling into regular habits of sin. This almost sounds like he's saying that if we really want to and work at it faithfully, doing everything we are supposed to do, that we could become perfect. There are some who do teach this idea of "spiritual perfectionism," but I don't believe that's Biblical. We know that we will never be perfect while living in our mortal, sin-tainted bodies here on earth. But we cannot use that as an excuse for our failings and weaknesses, and just remain content to leave those issues unaddressed. We are exhorted to "work out our salvation" (which does not mean to do what we can to save ourselves) - we need to be diligent in dealing with our sin, not lazy and negligent. When we come to the end of our life, we should not be satisfied merely with the fact that we managed to refrain from murder, adultery and theft.