Book Review: What Is the Gospel?

What Is the GospelWhen we received the book What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert in a gift bag from a church we visited, my first thought was, “It takes 121 pages to explain that?”

But, as he demonstrates in the first few pages, people have a variety of ideas about what exactly the gospel is, some odd, some close but not quite accurate. This, above anything else, is essential to know, because if we’re wrong about this, we’re in big trouble.

The first issue is our source of authority. After showing that reason, our own experience, and tradition are all unreliable, he goes to the Bible. He asserts that we can’t just do a study on the word “gospel” because many passages that describe it don’t use that word. So he suggests “looking at what the earliest Christians said about Jesus and the significance of his life, death, and resurrection” (p. 27).

Starting at Romans 1-4 and then examining other passages in the Bible, he observes that the gospel covers four basic questions:

1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
2. What is our problem?…Are we in trouble and why?
3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has he acted to save us from it?
4. How do I…come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? (p. 31).

He further distills this down to “four major points…God, man, Christ, and response” (p. 31) and then dedicates a chapter to each one. One quote that stood out to me in the chapter on our response:

Many Christians struggle hard with this idea of repentance because they somehow expect that if they genuinely repent, sin will go away and temptation will stop. When that doesn’t happen, they fall into despair, questioning whether their faith in Jesus is real. It’s true that when God regenerates us, he gives us power to fight against and overcome sin (1 Cor. 10:13). But because we will continue to struggle with sin until we are glorified, we have to remember that genuine repentance is more a matter of the heart’s attitude toward sin that it is a mere change of behavior. Do we hate sin and war against it, or do we cherish it and defend it? (p. 81).

Since Christianity is not just about what we’re saved from, but it’s also about what we’re saved to, there’s a chapter on the kingdom of God. The chapter on “Keeping the Cross at the Center” addresses our tendency to try to make the gospel bigger, or more relevant, or less offensive by getting off-center, and he discusses three “substitute” gospels that even well-meaning people can fall into sometimes. And finally, the last chapter explores several responses a proper understanding of the gospel should have on us, one of which is loving the brethren.

Christian, the gospel should drive you to a deeper and livelier love for God’s people, the church. Not one of us Christians has earned his or her way into the inheritance God has stored up for us. We are not “self-made” citizens of the kingdom. We are included in God’s promises only because we know that we are dependent on Jesus Christ to save us, and we are united to him by faith.

But here’s the kicker. Do you realize that the same thing is true of that brother or sister in your church who annoys you? He or she believes in and loves the same Lord Jesus that you do, and even more, he or she has been saved and forgiven by the same Lord who saved and forgave you (pp. 117-118).

I found this a very readable and highly valuable book, both for non-Christians who want a clear presentation of what the gospel is all about, and for Christians to remind ourselves of what a treasure the gospel truly is, to keep us from getting sidetracked by “good” causes which de-emphasize, leave out, or muddy the gospel, and to let it affect our lives in every way it’s supposed to.

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Friday’s Fave Five

fall FFF 1It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

We’ve crossed the halfway mark of November, looking forward to Thanksgiving next week, and then the Christmas season! But before we get ahead of ourselves, here are the blessings of this week.

1. An outing. We went to a holiday craft fair on Saturday, which was actually overcrowded and many of the items were overpriced. Then we went to a restaurant for lunch, where my food was great, but my husband’s and daughter-in-law’s both had problems, and the waiter was weird and almost made Timothy cry by teasing him. But – even though all the circumstances weren’t perfect, I enjoyed the time together.

2. Extended time with Timothy. I watched him for the longest time yet this week, and all by myself! Usually either Jim or Jesse, or both, are home. Everything went well and we had a good time. One thing we did was to make some fall sugar cookies with leaf-shaped sprinkles. He liked the sprinkles part. 🙂

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Timothy sprinkles

3. A medical procedure that a family member had this week went well.

4. One-cup dessert mixes. I’ve mentioned before various recipes I’ve found online for making one serving of a cookie, cake, or brownie in a mug in the microwave. They’re nice when you want something sweet (and fairly fast) but you don’t want a whole panful in the house to avoid the temptation of overindulging. Recently I found the same idea in a ready made, just-add-water mix. Nice! There were several flavors, but I tend to go for the chocolate. 🙂

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5. Solitude. I love my family dearly and enjoy time with them, but some times of quiet and solitude are essential to my sanity and well-being. Those times have been a little hard to come by since we moved my mother-in-law here and have had hospice people in and out. This week I actually had the better part of one whole day to myself. It was bliss. My m-i-l was here, of course, and her caregiver was here in the morning. But even then it was a pretty quiet, peaceful day.

Happy Friday, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Watching angels

When one of my sons was a baby and was intently staring at the ceiling, as babies are wont to do, my mother-in-law remarked that she thought when babies did that, they were looking at their guardian angels. We smiled – I think we even chuckled. I think she got a little embarrassed, but insisted, “No, really, I think they do see them!” We always kept that as a sweet memory of a sweet thought, and often when we saw a baby staring at the ceiling, we’d observe, “There they go looking at their guardian angels again” with a smile.

When we brought my mother-in-law home from the nursing home four years ago, we thought we were bring her home to die. She was down to 90 lbs., very fuzzy-minded, and not very responsive. But one-on-one care, especially in relation to feeding, and getting her off the narcotic drug we had not even known she was on until we brought her home, all improved her general condition dramatically. She’s 89, though, and one can’t stop the ravages of time. After maybe her first year or so at home, she began to decline more and more, moving less, sleeping more. Over the last year or so, she has become less interactive. She stopped speaking about a year ago, but we could tell by her eyes that she recognized us and followed what we were saying. She’d smile, nod, or shake her head. Though sometimes she still does, more and more lately there’s no light in her eyes when she looks at us, no response.

As we got her ready for bed last night, I noticed her staring intently at the ceiling, and that old sweet thought came back: maybe she’s watching her guardian angel.

Who knows what little babies and elderly people actually see when they fixedly stare at some point like that. I don’t know if each person is assigned a guardian angel, but the Bible does say that God sends angels to help us in various ways. Our pastor saw angels before he passed away, and I’ve heard similar things from others.

There is a sense in which all who know the Lord are getting closer to heaven every day, but the older and more frail one gets, the more imminent it seems. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV). Some day she’ll cast off this silent, crumpled frame and see, not just angels, but the One she has loved and faithfully served for decades, the One who loved her, died for her, redeemed her, and made it possible that she and the family she so loved and prayed for could be with Him.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, ESV

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV

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(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman)

Book Review: A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet

Salty Boomama is a popular blog by Sophie Hudson that I’ve read off and on through the years, so I was happy to find a book of hers on sale for the Kindle a while back: A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon.

The book mainly is anecdotes about Sophie’s real life extended family and their quirks, interactions, and funny moments, undergirded with faith and life lessons.

As she says in her introduction:

We’re no strangers to the drama. I will say, however, that my grandparents set a high standard in terms of how they expected us to treat each other, so even when we’re aggravated, we’re much more apt to talk about it than to storm out of a room. On top of that, this book is not meant to be An Airing of the Grievances; it’s meant to be a celebration of family.”

The best way to express the flavor of the book is to give you a few excerpts. Some of her chapter titles are:

Not to Mention That Her Apple Tarts Would Change Your Whole Life

The Saga of the Homemade Biscuits

A Denominational Showdown in the Frozen Foods Aisle

For Better, For Worse, and in the Increasingly Likely Chance of Heatstroke

Because Nothing Says “Welcome” Like Rifling Through a Handbag

Saturday Lunch and the Fine Art of Funeral Planning

Because Nothing Says “Happy Anniversary” like Eight Pounds of Bacon

Some other sections I particularly enjoyed:

As we share our stories with those people God has specifically ordained to walk with us on this side of eternity—and as they share their stories with us—we see the sacred in the ordinary. We see the profound in the mundane. We see the joy in the day to day. We see the hand of God writing a much bigger story—a story of rescue and redemption and hope and glory. Right here in the middle of the hilarious and the tragic and the sublime and the sad.

Watching and learning from Mama and the other women in my family gave me a deep love for home and hearth and taking care of people. I knew from a young age that there was eternal value in those things.

Like Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, I saw the effortless grace and elegance of the women around me and realized that “there was some skill involved in being a girl,” and I knew I didn’t just want to grow up and be a woman. I wanted to grow up and be a lady.

I think it’s safe to say that I spent a significant portion of third grade standing at the intersection of Nerdy and Oblivious.

I loaded two carts to overflowing before you could say, “This celebratory meal appears to be somewhat high in trans fats.”

Family life isn’t always easy, and complications are inevitable, and whether you like it or not, sometimes you’re going to get your feelings hurt. Sometimes you may even be the one who does the hurting. But you stay with it, and you get after it, and you love each other, and you forgive each other, and you keep coming back to the table. No matter what. You keep coming back to the table. And once you’re there, you sit down, and you settle in, and you remember. You share your stories.

I’m glad the editors let Sophie’s penchant for ALL CAPS and multiple parentheses remain, because they’re just so characteristically her.

I’ll admit that every now and then I felt a little like a guest at someone else’s family reunion, but that quickly faded as I got into the stories. Overall a very pleasant read.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

Book Review: To Be Where You Are

To Be Where You AreI don’t often read books “hot off the press.”  Usually I have so many stacked up from my last birthday, Christmas, etc., that anything new goes behind them. But Jan Karon’s books are an exception: they go straight to the front of the queue! To Be Where You Are is her newest, and its action starts right on the heels of Come Rain or Come Shine, in which Father Tim’s adopted son, Dooley, married his fiance, Lace.

In this book, Dooley and Lace have been fostering a four-year-old boy named Jack, and they’re making plans for a big celebration on what they call Name Day, when their adoption becomes final. That’s probably the major plot line, but as always in Mitford, there are multiple things, large and small, going on at any one time. Some of the other happenings in this book, just to name a few: one long-time Mitford resident passes away; another faces a serious illness and others offer to pitch in at his place of business; major plumbing problems wreak havoc at Dooley’s practice; Lace is offered a major art project which would take care of the plumbing bills, but it’s in California; a number of romances are blossoming; another Mitford resident is looking for ways to spice up his marriage; another is considering running for mayor; another is writing a book (not Cynthia!).

A few favorite spots:

She thought that one of the hardest parts of marriage was being loving when both partners were exhausted or wounded at the same time. When you had the least strength, that’s when you had to dig beyond your limits and grab whatever could be found and give it away.

She needed complete solitude to do this huge thing. No music, no interruptions, just the work. But that was not going to happen, and she had to get used to it.

Lights on in the town at the foot of the hill. Stars on in the great bowl above.

How could he do possibly want to do this fool thing?…Maybe it wasn’t about wanting or not wanting. Though he was beyond serving the mission field, wasn’t his own town a mission field?…And didn’t charity begin at home?

Once in a blue moon they got an October morning like this. It was a day when he could almost smell the ocean, when a gull might wing overhead. He wasn’t the biggest fan of sand and sea, but occasionally some hungering gnawed at him for the visual feast of the Atlantic plain and the knowledge – more like a secret revealed only to Tim Kavanaugh – that over there were Ireland and England and Scotland and Italy and…

His sermon had been preached 24/7 on the floor of The Local for more than three and a half decades.

Reading the Mitford books is like coming home for an extended visit. It was fun seeing how things had changed and yet stayed the same. The same warmth, gentle humor, and undercurrent of truth pervades this book just as it has the others. I don’t know how long Jan will continue writing Mitford books, but I’ll keep reading as many as she wants to write!

Another nice plus to reading this volume now is that the book started in October, and I also started reading (or listening) to it in October, so there were parallels in the setting to what I was experiencing personally.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read, as the other Mitford books have been, by John McDonough.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

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Everyday gifts

A few friends linked to this cute video on Facebook.

OK, some might think it a little cheesy. But it made a good point in a fun way. Though it was made with Christmas in mind, I thought it was perfect for Thanksgiving – or really, for any day – a reminder of all that we have. Much that we take for granted would have been considered luxuries throughout most of history, and in fact would still be considered luxuries by a lot of the world today.

This reminded me of an event several years ago when the church we attended then had a testimony time Thanksgiving Eve. Several young adults expressed longing to see God do something “big” in their lives. I couldn’t help but think of the children of Israel in the wilderness. The everyday manna was just as miraculous and just as much God’s provision as the parting of the Red Sea and victory in battle, yet they soon grew tired of that and wanted something else.

I don’t think those young people wanting to see God do something big in their lives that night were necessarily taking the everyday gifts for granted. I don’t know their hearts. But sometimes in longing for the “big” moments we can overlook the everyday evidence of God’s presence, love, and care – maybe a little like a husband or wife waiting for a grand, romantic gesture from the other rather than seeing the love in providing for each other, being attentive to each other’s needs and idiosyncrasies, and all the various little ways we evidence that “You’re the one that I love.”

May we see God’s hand and rejoice in His love and gifts in the everyday as well as in the milestone, once in a lifetime events.

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High: to show forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night. Psalm 92:1-2

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses,
Tell His Story, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)