Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bible

Title: The Holy Bible 
Authors: 40+ men over 1500 years  
Genre: Non-fiction  
Publisher: God  
Release Date: 1535 
Pages: 1,200ish

 

Simply filling out the specs I’m picking a fight. My choice to label The Bible non-fiction communicates:

  1. Ignorance to secular scientists (Gah! Join the 21st century!)
  2. Intolerance to other religions (god wrote our book too)
  3. Combativeness to atheists (your god is what’s wrong with this world).

All that, over genre. No wonder the reviews are either 1. mocking or 2. pertain to the version and/or ergonomic design. No one reviews The Holy Bible for substance. Enter, me. 🙂 …little ole nobody gonna review God’s letter to humanity.

Authorship of the Bible is attributed to some forty bearded men and God. Hand-in-glove is the way it’s described, the men being God’s gloves. I personally struggled with accepting the Bible as written by God. Here’s how it went down, an analogy because I love literary devices:

I was tired. This chair looked really comfortable, but I didn’t trust it. I’d been warned against chairs: they were fine for decoration, but one didn’t actually sit. That was taking things too far. But like I said, I was tired of standing, and the chair looked cozy. How could I know whether or not it would hold? Might there not be a sharp spike just under the upholstery? I was taught in school about chairs; People like Jim Jones and Jim Baker sat in chairs (a murderer and a thief, respectively). But I’d lately learned some great people sat in chairs too. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. I scrutinized my chair from all angles. I asked other chair-sitters how they liked their chair and did it hold? Everything one could do to ascertain the soundness of this chair, I did. Except, I would not sit.

Talking with a chair-sitter one day*, she asked, “Don’t you believe this chair will hold you?”

I said I didn’t know.

To my surprise, she said, “Then we’re done here. There is nothing more I can do for you until you decide to sit in the chair.” I thought she was going to convince me about the chair. No, the only way to know for sure was to sit. She left. I got desperate.

I wanted the comfort of the chair, so I made a conscious decision to trust it. This was a leap in my faith. I had read the Bible before, as a work of literature like Dante or Shakespeare. Now I would read it as the answer to my question: why am I here? I would trust what it had to say. They call it the trust of a child. If you’re new to the Bible you have a decision to make before you open it. Is it or is it not Truth? Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” It is not enough to ask. One must pursue truth like a lover.

A pursuit is not a meandering stroll or a meme search. It’s not a glance or a nap or an infusion. Think, stalker.

This image may help (warning: literary device #2): imagine you’re digging for buried treasure. When you’re digging, you sweat. You grunt. You’re not having much fun sometimes, but you’re convinced there’s something worth it, so you keep on digging. You want the treasure more than you want to rest. You throw up a prayer or a curse for your aching muscles, but on you press. This is how the Bible can be. Before you even open it, you must believe there is treasure in those pages. Proverbs 24 advises: seek [wisdom] as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures. 

Post-hole-digger

Not that there aren’t strategies. One can dig for treasure with her bare hands (not recommended). One can use a spade (better). Or one can use a post-hole-digger. Here is your complimentary Bible post-hole-digger:

  1. Start with the book of John in the New Testament. I didn’t listen to this advice and began with Genesis– digging with my bare hands. Thing is, the Bible is also a sort of ledger of Jewish history. There are verbose lists of family lines and architectural instructions and how-to de-germ people and/or your dwellings. Lots of sifting to get to the treasure. I should have listened, story of my life.
  2. As you read, write down questions or observations. One of my husband’s observations was the following insult: “…whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt. 5:32b) Here was God, it seemed to my husband, rebuking him for his willingness to marry a single mom, adopt her baby girl, and love her as his own. Some people would’ve shut the book then and there or tossed it out the window. But my husband believed there was something worth pressing for, so he kept at it.
  3. Watch expectantly for God to answer your questions through His Word, through “random” people, and through “coincidental” events. Make one small step toward Him, and He will run to you.
  4. Record what happens.
  5. After John, read the other gospels and then the rest of the letters of the New Testament.
  6. Read the Psalms, one-a-day as you do this whole exercise.
  7. You will most likely find yourself undone at some point. The Bible is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12) It pierces your heart to be convinced God suffered and died for you. Head knowledge is not the same as heart. We can read about Syrian refugees, but only pictures seem to enter the heart.

This is what happens when you pursue faith. If a human photographer can capture a moment that so awakens our compassion, imagine what God can do if you fix your eyes upon Him.

Trusting the Bible is like sitting in that chair. What I didn’t realize until I sat, was that this wasn’t just some stationary chair in a heavenly lounge. I found the chair to be that of a co-pilot, in the cockpit of some marvelous engine that has taken me places I never would have imagined. I don’t mean exotic earthly places, though I’ve been to those as well. The Bible, my faith, my Lord, the friends and family He’s given me, the meaningful whole that is my life– have taken me to emotionally beautiful places.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. – Matthew 13:44

Usually I rate books numerically according to readability and merit. Because I consider the Bible to be outside the realm of ordinary books, I would not dare assign it a number. None is high enough.

But read it, I challenge you… and the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

*The can-I-trust-this-Bible? conversation happened with a lovely woman who shared her faith with me, Debbie Spink. I remember being stunned she didn’t try harder to convince me the Bible was true or cajole me or debate with me. Her dismissal made me realize I wanted peace more than I wanted to win a debate. After I stewed for several months and gulped down the New Testament several times over, I met with her husband, Pastor Ken Spink. He fielded my gazillion questions and/or objections to the Christian faith.

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Personal Journey

The Only Resolution You Need: Be Resolute

Resolute: 1. marked by firm determination 2. bold, steady.

In a fit of New Year’s zeal you wrote a bunch of resolutions. And in a fit of cold reality already broke at least one. Now you’re starting 2017 as a failure. Why even bother with the rest?  New Year’s resolutions are like trains. One car off the track and the whole thing goes. The year’s derailed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Make resolution your resolution.

Life will throw you down in 2017, of that you can be sure. Determine to get up when you fall, no matter what the goal or circumstance. Decide you’ll keep your vows, your promises, your commitments, both to yourself and to others. When you do that, everything else falls into line. Even a derailed train doesn’t have to stop. Where does it say it has to? A derailed train can keep moving forward, churning the earth into ruts behind it and dragging along whatever freight is there. And what is it doing?

Plowing. Paving its own road.

Imagine that train engine dragging its overturned cars along the tracks, igniting sparks from the flint of will and the drag of steel, bellowing the howl of metal on metal. That’s the mantra of the resolute.

Psalm 15:4 describes a resolute person as one …who keeps a promise even if it ruins him. 

Have you ever committed to something and halfway through, the landscape changed? The workload mutated, the expectation grew claws and horns and sharp teeth? That’s happened to me so many times I now brace for impact when I make a commitment. Call me a cynic. Or a realist. The fact that my commitment morphed into something else does not release me from it, not if I’m resolute. That’s what it means to keep your word no matter what.

Anybody can decide to fast. Deciding’s easy. It’s a word on a page, an intention. Not just anybody can Gandhi their way into changing the world. Don’t think Gandhi didn’t hunger. Don’t think he was some sort of superhero who didn’t need food like the rest of us. The difference between Gandhi and you or me: degree of resolution.

Look, if your resolutions don’t fly off your soul in a heartbeat, you probably don’t care enough to follow through. Limit your focus to a handful of things for which you’d die. They are the freight you’ll be dragging. They’re also the weight that makes you powerful in your momentum. You know the physics: a body’s mass determines its force.

Often our goals contradict one another. Lose weight. Enter ten hot-dog-eating contests. See more friends/family. Find more time for myself. Make more money. Get more sleep. Resolution is a pyre at which I must sacrifice worthy, wonderful, needful, beautiful things. Most of us can’t possibly accomplish all the high-minded and half-hearted goals we wrote in a delirium of self-aggrandizement. A train can’t go east and west at the same time. Take a fresh look at those resolutions. Do they align? Purge until they do.

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At Mount Rushmore, a young man was getting his picture taken. Giving the architectural marvel a middle finger salute.

“Don’t do that,” chided his mother, who was taking the photo. I’ll never forget his answer.

“This is ‘Merica. I can do Whatever… I… Want.”

In ‘Merica, we can flip off the stone busts of the founding fathers. We can do whatever we want. And that’s why we scrawl grand lists and scheme and plan and dream of the future. And some of us put more energy into flipping off life than embracing it. 77% of us would rather write resolutions than accomplish them.

Because it’s easier and more comfortable, we flip off a challenge and console ourselves with next year. But why wait?  If you, like me, like so many ‘Mericans, have trouble keeping your resolutions, try making just one this year: be resolute.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows. – Proverbs 20:25

 

fiction, Screwtape Still Speaks

The One Feared is the One Revered

hand-mushroom-cloud-blast-explosionI don’t want to be worshipped– I want to terrify. My rival covets worship, but I’ve never been so inclined. You could say between the two of us, I’m the humble one. And between the two of us, I’m the one providing a service: I scare you, don’t I? Scare you into looking before you cross the street, frighten you into taking the boring, bill-paying job, terrify you into aborting those inconsequential cells growing inside you because no way can you handle what’s coming down the pike, my dear. No way. Be reasonable.

What does my rival do for you? …What? He hung the celestial bodies, slapped them spinning… and what’s bedecked His resume since then? Ask the burned-up, disheveled Syrian boy. Ask the refugees. Or the republicans. Ask the four-footed critters or winged creatures whose orb is fracked and fractured and asphalted, whose space is raped. Ask, what has He done for you lately?

I never asked to be worshipped.

But to petrify, that is my game. Humanity thrives on terror. I submit The Exorcist, all things Stephen King, the Autobahn on a rainy day, and Donald Trump any day. Who delivers this exquisite fright? Yours truly. And I never ask for applause. All I ask is you not applaud my rival, not send upward looks and wide-open arms and prayers for deliverance. No one’s coming.

I want to terrify because the one feared is the one revered. The one feared– his fat, itchy finger perches awkwardly on the launch button. Did I mention North Korea in my exhibit list? Terror fuels the world, make no mistake. What scurrying when the alarm sounds, what an economic boon is war! Didn’t your mother tell you she beat you for your own good? I gave her that phrase.

[Submitted to Cracked Flash Fiction contest. As I wrote this entry, I realized my default is not to story, but to essay. The Screwtape Letters is branded deep into my subconscious, and I shift into first person essays without meaning to. What to do about that? Recently I posted about changing my novel to 1st person. I figure I should do what comes naturally while I’m floundering about. Babies don’t run the 4 by 400. When I force myself into a format, the writing screams, “I’m stilted!” Then I hate it. Then I delete it. I’ve collected quite a few rejections from CFF, perhaps because my writing is more aptly described as Cracked Flash Essay. Ha! Well, the wounded warrior pets herself and finds excuses as to why she didn’t get the gold, doesn’t she? Whatever mind games we have to play to get back out there and get rejected again.]

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Personal Journey

The Downside of Being God, A Soldier, A Car Salesman

Raise your hand if you want to be honored today, Memorial Day.

Photo Credit: Miss-Akito-Sohma
Photo Credit: Miss-Akito-Sohma

I don’t want to be honored because I don’t want to be dead yet. Neither did the ones we honor. Most didn’t intend to die, either when they signed on or in the moment. Most hoped they could serve their country, come home, start a family, leave a legacy. But they simply left. We give them a legacy by remembering their sacrifice. We stop and consider and gushingly thank those who were mown down by war.

Memorial Day has also become a time to thank those who sign on to wear the uniform because who knows whether or not they sign their death warrants for X days hence. All jobs are jobs but some jobs bring the scythe closer than others. The downside of being a car salesman is that it rains on Memorial Day. The downside of being a soldier is that you get honored on Memorial Day.

Even being God has a downside.

Jesus: hanging from a cross, betrayed, mocked, spit upon, naked, all in front of His mother, and for what? Not like anyone anywhere thinks He deserved it. The enigma is how they justified themselves to put Him there. Yes, the downside to being Jesus is that whole crucifixion dying-for-everyone aspect to His job.

The Holy Spirit. Jesus had to go away so the Holy Spirit could come. That was the deal. At first I thought the Holy Spirit had the greener grass.

Then I realized He has to live inside people like me.

People who, at times, make Him want to retch or cry or rage or slink off into a corner. Were I Mother Teresa or Brother Andrew, or Jim Elliot, the Holy Spirit would have the cushy job. But He has to live in my bad days as well as my good. He has to deal on a day-to-day basis with that most annoying aspect of the equation: free will. The Holy Spirit may just have the worst job of all, living in disobedient, backslidden Christians who don’t give a rap about Him. Let me not be the person who makes the Holy Spirit wish He were Jesus or the Father…

Because God keeps his promises. And He promised to live inside those who would ask. One can die but one can not be unborn.

The Father. Not just the Principal Of-the-Old-Testament. I fear He is often misunderstood. Feminists like to call God “she” and get worked up over the imagery, but the imagery is a signpost or– if you’ll open up to it– a bludgeon for a hard heart. Think of your child. Now think– your neighbor’s kid needs a heart transplant. So the Father-God response is to put your son on the operating table– no anesthesia– and have his heart cut out. The Father-God gives His son because someone has to pay the price for the wayward listing of humanity. Someone perfect. The Father surely would have preferred it be Him rather than His son, just as we would step in front of any bullet heading for our children. We would step with gladness.

The imagery of God the father sacrificing Jesus His son should punch us in the gut and double us over forever if we consider it for more than a nanosecond, if we let it in. Most of us don’t. We figure it was somehow easy for God to sacrifice His son because… well, He’s God. Everything is easy when you’re the captain, right? Does experience ever teach us that power and responsibility equals easy? Our debut and ensuing serpentine crawl through the parental battlefield teaches exactly the opposite: no love equals that of a parent for his child, and nothing is easy about the lordship of one’s own castle.

Now see God that way. Giving the gift of Jesus wasn’t easy.

The sorrow of Memorial Day could be a tsunami if we stop chewing our hotdogs for a reverent moment. Yes, and the sorrow of God the father at what He had chose to do– that should wipe us out. But too often we mourn like car salesmen, that it’s raining on our big sales day.

Mourn the downside of being a soldier this Memorial Day.

Mourn today and every day hereafter, the downside of being God. If you dare.

The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. – 1 John 4:14

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  John 3:16

Personal Journey

The Gift of a Thought

christmasI woke up this morning and felt like staying in bed, where I could cuddle with that bit of holiday angst that took up residence in the pit of my stomach. Confession: under my covers is the safest place even at 42 years old. I worried about getting the sickness that’s going around and all the things that wouldn’t get done, about ruining my children with my actions and ruining my children with my inaction, and whether or not the Christmas season will be “magical” for my family. I worried I wouldn’t get the specific presents I’ve been asking from God: health during our anniversary cruise, safety during same, peace on earth and in the Griffiths’ home, etc., etc. It never ends, really. Whenever I get a gift, I say in my heart Thank you for that God, but can I also get…  I should have stopped at the thank you, but I didn’t. We almost never do, especially when it comes to God, the greatest Sugar Daddy ever to exist in our consciousnesses. And the most under-appreciated.

Presents are God’s to give or to withhold. All I have is His, all goodness I ever feel, whether the circumstances are good or not. I know that’s true because I’ve lived through black times in the grip of some unexplainable grace while God taught it to me. He reminded me to trust Him again this morning. I’d fallen off that truth. He reminded me that I’ll get something when and if it glorifies Him. The present I think I want, that I reach for in my flesh, will only be under my tree if God– in His sovereign will– thinks it’s a present too.

I think of Gabe’s list of must-have presents. How much thought I’ve pored into his list of gifts he thinks he wants, deciding what I think he really wants, based on my older, wiser perspective. Because of the scope of my vision, I can see farther into Gabe’s desires than his 9-year-old mind can. How much more is God able to see what I really want? God, whose perspective reaches beyond the stars. When a boy asks for a fish, he will not be given a snake, will he? That’s what Jesus said about good gifts, from God and men. I need to trust my Giver.

Asking for presents isn’t a sin, but thinking we must have them, world-be-damned, is. I’ve found that the line between wanting something and entitlement is invisible, and I scarcely know when I’ve crossed over until I feel icky and empty inside and have to search out the reason for my lack of peace. To what are we entitled? Health. Safety. Money. The breath in our lungs. A trouble-free Caribbean cruise.

None of it.

As created creatures, we are entitled to whatever is given. Whether we receive it gladly or grudgingly is also a gift from God: our free will. There are some things under the tree that we cannot change. Only my reaction is within my control. And we all know that on an intellectual level. The gift is believing and trusting that I am held, in blessing and woe, by Someone greater than me. For me, His name is Jesus. And I choose to believe that whatever He gives me, He knows what I really want. Tomorrow I’ll be subject again to the caprice of my circumstances and my hormones and my ego. Today, in the quiet of my morning prayers, I can see and rest knowing that God’s presents for me are what is best, and that thought– that very thought– is a gift from Him as well.

Personal Journey

Just Show Up

A friend of mine texted me this morning asking for prayer.  As she should. She’s about to embark on something that’s way out of her league.  She does this for Jesus and for His people, especially those who feel most forsaken, who the world deems most filthy and most foul, but who are loved by God.

They that are whole have no need of a physician; but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. – Jesus

I text my friend: Just show up. God will do the rest. I tell her that because that’s what I’ve been told by other, wiser walkers before me; it’s what I tell myself when I’m about to step out onto the tightrope of faith and have no long stick, no net, just my empty palms held out and turned up. In some ways that’s freeing, that just showing up. But in other ways it’s the hardest part because working up the gumption to push against static friction is even harder than pushing against plain old friction, which is hard enough, thank you very much.

Those of us who fear showing up are in good company. Moses really didn’t want to show up. Listen to him argue with God about whether or not he was fit for the mission: Who am I, that I should go…? What shall I say…? What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say…? Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 3 & 4) And Saul? So didn’t want to show, as evidenced by the fact that he hid himself by the baggage when it was time for his coronation.  Gideon whined.  Ananias balked. Even Jesus admitted He was only sent; He submitted, and not without a respectful request for some other options: My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not what I will, but as Thou wilt.

Showing up isn’t easy.

When you fearfully and wonderfully step onto a personal emotional battlefield and hold the banner for God, expect to be shot at. You will experience anxiety and abandonment. Maybe worse. There isn’t always that peace-which-passes-all-understanding hugging us like a buddy.  Sometimes, we’re just gritting our teeth and showing up.

My friend, who asked for prayer is a spiritual giant and I, her lilliputian friend.  But we can always use a fresh perspective, and our differences hone us in ways matching feathers wouldn’t. Even the perspective of children is welcomed by the Lord. So I too can say with confidence: just show up; God will do the rest.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. – Jesus

Personal Journey

Heal My Soul – Testimony Part III

Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee. – Psalm 41:4b

My memory in the months before I acquiesced to Jesus is hazy. I know I was desperate. I know circumstantially I had everything– as far as the American Dream goes, anyway. Although I had married my prince charming, I was disappointed that I had not become a princess. Like the frog in reverse, I thought his kiss would make me into something beautiful and worthy. When I stayed me, things eventually got ugly.  My twisted thinking went like this: if I can make him bleed emotionally, I can know he loves me.  So that’s what I did.  Yet for all that work and drama, I never felt satisfied that I was loved.  I was ever-grasping at some elusive feeling, some fullness or contentment that always slipped my grip.

stained glassSome Christians I knew seemed to glow.  I don’t mean in the figurative sense; I mean literally glowed– like the stained glass images of old, the sun-shape that seemed to mat the faces. I understand if you don’t believe me.  God gives us each just what we need to make a decision.  I guess I needed that.

Thomas.  Remember him?  He was a contemporary of Jesus and still he wouldn’t believe without digging his fingers into Jesus…

On the outside I was brazen and witty, sarcastic, athletic, in-control. On the inside I was screaming for peace and attention. I wore the slippery mask of confidence, but craved a heart of it.  Like the cowardly lion who wished for a transformation, so I wanted to trade my unstable, flimsy insides for something reliable. But there was no truth. The postmodern lie was nearly my undoing.  I remember reading a book that gave the nuts and bolts, if you will, of all the major religions of the world. One of them has to be right, I thought. When I read it… nothing. More head knowledge. How can there be so many versions of truth? With so many followers of every rendition? It must all be lies, all spins off the main lie that there is something beyond us…

What finally reached me was a man who seemed to be genuinely in love with this person, Jesus. How he addressed his God was both reverent and familiar. It was authentic and lacked the scriptedness I was accustomed to getting at church. My heart melted when I heard– straight from the Bible– who Jesus was and why He came to earth:

WHO has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of a parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. – Isaiah 53:1-6

And this, written about Jesus, hundreds of years before He stepped foot on earth. That wasn’t mentioned in my nuts and bolts religion book. And there’s so much more inexplicable prediction in the Bible. I challenge anyone who hasn’t thoroughly checked out the prophecies on Jesus to finish Isaiah 53 and read the book of John.  What we holiday churchgoers were taught in our brief catechism is the tip of an iceberg so majestic and irrefutable, that, once uncovered, will forever subject us to its awesome power. That is what occurs in the heart of one who comes face to face with Jesus. That is what happened in my heart.

After church, the pastor’s wife came over to me to say hello. I apologized for the blubbering wreck I was. And I’ll never forget her deadpan answer.

That’s the Holy Spirit.

She believed that God’s Holy Spirit was responsible for making me cry, that a physiological reaction was the result of something beyond me, beyond the natural realm, even. Wherever it was from, this brokenness was new and bitter.  It was the beginning of my journey’s end as far as the search for meaning was concerned. The journey was uncomfortable; I had to come to terms with  my own limitations and inadequacies, and accept– as a gift– that God provided a way for me to be right in His eyes.  It is the greatest gift, accepting that Christ died for my sins, that He loved me enough to withstand such humiliation on my behalf.

The love of Jesus: I used to spurn it, used to mock and maul it, but now I embrace the gift we celebrate every year when we stop our freeway-style Christmas season and consider what the essence of Christmas has always been to those who keep it:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people,for today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10 -11

theWordwasmadeflesh